Occupy Galway have been accused of being an eyesore, a nuisance, and a hindrance to people’s use and enjoyment of Eyre Square, but gardaí have complimented the camp on making the square “safer at night” due to their presence.
The Occupy Galway movement has been present in Eyre Square for some 100 days, outlasting similar protests in New York and Paris. However they have also been subject to fierce criticism from some councillors who have demanded they be removed.
This week Fianna Fáil councillor Ollie Crowe said City Hall was looking at a strategy to evict the protesters from the square, but Occupy Galway said neither the local authority nor the Gardaí have asked them to move. Instead they point out that the Gardaí have been complimentary towards the camp.
“The gardaí have complimented us on keeping the camp clean and they have also told us that Eyre Square is safer at night-time because of our presence,” camp occupant Liam Heffernan told the Galway Advertiser. “It is a testament to the Gardaí that we have been allowed to remain here. In other countries government and police have come down hard on protesters, but here the vital part of democracy - the right to assemble and protest - is recognised.”
At Monday’s city council meeting, Independent councillor Terry O’Flaherty, one of the most persistent critics of Occupy Galway, made a number of allegations against the protest group.
Cllr O’Flaherty said she “had it on good word that the tents in the Occupy camp are all empty at night”. She has also alleged it was “too cold” over the Christmas for people to stay there, and that the protesters let in anyone “wily nilly” to stay in the camp.
“That’s not true,” said camp occupant Fia Borg. “All the tents are occupied and we actually have too few tents for all the people that want to stay here.”
Mr Heffernan added: “We have made new space to accommodate people in the office shed and Terry O’Flaherty is very welcome to come and stay over a night if she does not believe us.
“As regards no one here because of the cold, there were five people in the camp for Christmas and we had Christmas dinner here. Also we don’t let people into the camp ‘willy nilly’. They have to write a letter saying why they want to join the protest, we examine that and if we feel their reasons are genuine then they are allowed stay
.”Monday’s council meeting was the scene of protest against the controversial household tax. What began as a peaceful demonstration ended in chaos when a minority of the protesters attempted to force their way into the council chamber.
Fianna Fáil councillor Peter Keane suggested later that members of the Occupy Camp were “probably” some of the protesters “throwing chairs around the place”.
“Nobody threw chairs about the place,” asserts Ms Borg. “There was one man who had to move a chair in order to make his way through and the only way he could do that was by manually lifting the chair over his head. If anyone had acted violently they would have been arrested. As it was people were just moved out of the chamber by the Gardaí.
Occupy Galway said that instead of criticising people for protesting against the recession, the bank bailouts, and the punishing taxes on ordinary people, councillors should instead be asking some hard questions of themselves.
“Councillors should ask themselves which is more important, the welfare of the people or corporate profits?” said Ms Borg.
“Our protest is a reminder of the gap between rich and poor,” said Mr Heffernan. “If councillors find that distasteful then they do not appreciate the level of anger and frustrations there is within society at the moment.”