It may not have the dramatic scale or numbers of Occupy Wall Street, but Occupy Galway in Eyre Square has become the subject of much interest, debate, and curiosity, as well as expressions of good will and solidarity between public and protester.
Inspired by the events in New York, five Galwegians pitched tents in Eyre Square last Saturday afternoon. By Wednesday, the group had not only survived the howling winds and lashing rain of earlier in the week, but their numbers had grown. Today there are 10 tents with 30 people taking part in what has become Occupy Galway.
The group of protesters is made up of native Galwegians and foreign-born individuals who now live in the city. “We come from all walks of life,” says Michael Jones, one of the members of the Eyre Square group. “There are people aged from 17 to the 60s, some are unemployed, some have jobs and go between here and their work.”
Along with their tents, the group have set up a kind of marquee where they sit and eat and there are posters on tents and on the glass hoarding surrounding the Browne Doorway, outlining their views on the current state of the Irish economy, the recession, and the Government’s response to it.
People come by and ask the protesters how they are. “Are ye not frozen out here?” asks one young man. “Yes it’s cold,” replies Michael, “but the Government is much colder.”
Later an elderly man comes by. He’s not sure if the protest will have any effect, but he says he admires the group and respects the stance they have taken. “We’re doing it for you,” a member of the group tells him. “We’re all in this together.”
So why have the group felt it necessary to stage this kind of protest in the square? “We are paying the Government to pay off the banks which acted irresponsibly,” Michael replies. “Instead of money being used to plug the banks it needs to go into education, hospitals, and services for the public, which are being cut and cut. We have to take a stand against what is happening.”
How will occupying part of Eyre Square contribute to showing public disaffection with the State of the economy and highlight to Government the anger and fear people feel over the future?
“We are in Eyre Square because the public owns the square and because the protest is a visual statement,” says Michael. “People try to change things from the top down, but that doesn’t work as power is a pyramid. If you start at the base with grassroots tactics and work your way up, that’s where the change will happen.”
The group endured a torrid time on Monday when wild winds and unrelenting rain threatened to blow their camp down. How did they manage to persevere under the circumstances? “It made people band together,” says Gregory Greenawalt, another member of the group. “It forced us to work hard to make it better and build the campsite so that we would have better warmth and protection. It helped make it more of a community.”
The group says that the Galway public has been very supportive of them. “People have come with blankets and food and words of encouragement, others stay for a while in solidarity,” says Michael Lyndon. “Even people who are opposed to what we do, when we explain what we are about see what we are getting at.”
The group is determined to stay in Eyre Square and have no intention of giving up their protest. They say no one from the Galway City Council or the gardaí have requested them to move. However what about next month when the Continental Christmas Market is due to be established in the square?
“We will move the tents to the section of the square that is not being used by the market,” says Michael Jones. “We will still be here as the problems in our economy will still be here. We would also like to thank the public for their expression of support and An Garda Síochána too. People understand why we are here and why we need to take a stand