Last night at around 3am the Occupy Dame Street camp was cleared by Gardai. The fifteen protesters still on site were given no forewarning but rather claim to have been woken by the clatter of their temporary structures being pulled apart. Ostensibly the reason given for clearing the camp was health and safety concerns relating to the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is set to pass by the former location of the protesters. Gardai had previously requested that Occupy Dame Street ‘temporarily’ remove the camp to accommodate the parade, which the protesters refused to do.
While questions relating to how effective the protest in this format has remained in recent months and what levels of support the camp still generates are open to debate (see some discussion on namawinelake), the events of last night nevertheless seem to me a sad reflection of the paucity of positions of active citizenship. Whenever I passed by the camp recently there appeared to be relatively little activity. To an extent, its presence had become somewhat normalised and thus lacked the confrontational aspect of its early incarnation. Ironically, looking at photographs of the cleared site I am struck that its absence (at least today) packs a more potent political message. The naked site denudes the state power that continually produces the city as a site organised around particular practices and ideologies. Uses of space that significantly deviate from, and challenge, these practices and ideologies, it seems, will not be tolerated on a sustained basis.
The story of the camp’s removal featured on Today FMs 11 o’clock news but was dropped by the midday bulletin, replaced (as far as I could tell) by a story relating a new incentive scheme offering rewards of €1,500 per job (up to a maximum of 100 jobs) for anyone who suceeds in bringing a foreign company to Ireland. I don’t know if Today FM’s dropping the story is significant. But it is indicative of ‘Ireland Inc’ becoming increasing the default performance of citizenship. While health and safety concerns are cited, there are clearly parties concerned that the presence of the camp during the St. Patrick Day parade will reflect poorly on Ireland’s international tourist image. On twitter, one commentator criticised an “ignorant” protester who dismissed the value of tourism to Ireland. Foreign investment in terms of companies and tourists is clearly significant in sustaining employment in Ireland, but I can’t help but be struck with the underlying picture of a hopelessly anti-democratic society that these sentiments suggest. Hamstringed by the programme of austerity imposed by the Trokia, the Government must look towards international investment to improve the lives of Irish citizens. Enacting citizenship, then, appears to mean stoically accepting the pragmatism of this strategy, shutting up and getting on with things. If not, you can always join the long lines of those leaving for Canada.