Ireland’s struggle against state austerity policies and the water charges are a long way from over, but today in the Dublin District Court a significant victory was won for the cause of social resistance. Joan Collins, TD for Dublin South Central, along with twelve other anti-water charges protestors, was acquitted of all public order charges levelled against her by the Director of Public Prosecutions after her arrest by the Gardaí in April last year. Together with local activists Joan and a handful of other local representatives, including Councillor Tina McVeigh, mounted a peaceful protest against the installation of water meters in Crumlin, Dublin, where a number of arrests were made.

Following an ill-thought programme of austerity the Irish government has forced water charges, as another form of taxation, on a deeply fractured Ireland. Rather than target the wealthier sections of society – the sections of the political and financial classes responsible for Ireland’s economic misery – the imposition of water charges hurts the lowest earners the most. With soaring unemployment, a worsening housing crisis, and government spending cuts right across the board, the poorest in the country have found themselves unable to pay. Well organised protest and civil disobedience has produced massive national resistance to the water tax, and the response from the state has been the deployment of the Gardaí in political policing, intimidation, and force.

Water charges and the entire project of austerity has been the undoing of the coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour as Ireland heads into the 2016 general election, but it has also proven to be the testing of the political left. Paul Murphy’s Anti Austerity Alliance and Richard Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit parties, with a number of leftist Dáil independents, have spearheaded a strategy of non-payment, and to date this tactic has held the support of more than half the country. The problem is that these are small political groupings within the wider political structure, which stand little hope of success without forming a broader social alliance. Their hope, whether they agree or not, is that such an alliance will include Sinn Féin – that is if their agenda is to hold against the right. Sinn Féin, however, has distanced itself from the non-payment strategy and has signed up to the North’s own austerity programme.

Today’s decision by Judge Aeneas McCarthy in the District Court offers a ray of hope and a vindication of the community strategy of peaceful protest, non-payment, and civil disobedience. Joan Collins and others have shown that this can work and can become the basis of a successful campaign of social resistance to austerity throughout Ireland. As electioneering heats up in the general election campaigns of the parties, and owing to the unpopularity of the water charges in particular, Fianna Fáil and others have demonstrated some reticence on the water charges, and so all bets are off until the formation of the next government. Whatever the outcome, Joan and her friends have guaranteed that whoever is in power will be met with a formidable force for change if austerity is on the menu.

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