As dawn broke over Eyre Square on Wednesday morning, Galway found itself unoccupied. After yet another request by the Galway City Council last week for the Occupy Galway group to dismantle its ‘tent city’ on the edge of Eyre Square had been rejected, gardai and council workers arrived around 4.30am to clear the last of the Occupy Ireland sites. It would appear, from Garda reports, that Occupy Galway was itself occupied by only six people at the time.
Although one person was arrested for a public order offence, an Occupy Galway spokesperson had stated that if moves were made to shut down the camp, no physical resistance would be offered. Five out of the six protesters occupying Galway at the time honoured this pledge.
Protesters had set up the camp last October in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest and similar movements around the world.
The first Occupy protest to receive wide coverage was Occupy Wall Street in New York City's Zuccotti Park in September of last year. The movement, which, unlike many international protest movements, seemed to have few leaders, was an impressive example of organisation through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
By early October, Occupy protests had spread around the world, attracting, at least to start with, genuine or bemused support from many people, especially those hit by the global financial downturn.
Galway City Council had repeatedly asked for the camp to be dismantled, arguing it had been erected without consent and was illegal, and that it posed a health and safety danger to the general public.
In fact, the camp seemed well organised, tidy, and confined behind a delineated fence festooned with signs and posters, none of which could be taken as offensive, however naïve were the sentiments some of them proclaimed.
The main reason Galway City Council wanted the camp removed has more to do with the image of the city than health and safety concerns. And it has to be said, the council had shown considerable patience with the protesters. Indeed, the very fact that Occupy Galway is the last of the protest camps to be moved is proof of that. And the protesters, while maintaining their right to remain, demonstrated a sense of responsibility when they agreed to move the site of their camp to accommodate the Christmas Market.
While some might be inclined to sneer at the suggestion that what really galvanised Galway City Council was the upcoming arrival of the Volvo Yacht Race, the truth is the image the city projects is crucial in helping Galway get back on its feet. Last week it was reported that hundreds of new businesses have been set up in the Galway area since the beginning of the year, a tribute to the grass-roots dynamism of the many entrepreneurs who have refused to despair and have got off their backsides and created work and new jobs.
The impulse behind the Occupy movement is a laudable one: to protest against the perceived social and economic inequalities in society. Scratch most citizens of this country and you will find an anger at the way banks and corporations seem to call the tune for the 99 per cent of the Occupy movement’s best known slogan. And the stock of politicians has rarely been lower.
The Occupy movement initially helped to channel some of this anger in a peaceful way, but as time passed, the point of the movement seemed more and more confused and, to the initial protest against financial institutions and banks was added the usual grab-bag of issues, from Shell Oil to the household charge.
By the time gardai moved in to clear the camp, Occupy Galway had become the ghost of itself and no longer had any point.