Déardaoin, Deireadh Fómhair 14, 2010

Walking Tour Captures the Imagination


Given the unique nature of last Saturday’s [October 9] political walking tour, it was always going to be difficult to predict how many people would turn up to the event.
Political protests in Dublin invariably follow the same format; marching the well-trodden route from the Garden of Remembrance to the gates of Leinster House, where speaker after speaker addresses an ever-dwindling crowd.

But, if the organisers of the 1% Network had any concerns that people might not ‘get’ the concept behind the walking tour, they need not have worried. By 1.30pm on Saturday, the assembly point at the Wolfe Tone monument on Stephen’s Green was thronged with upwards of 250 people who had come along to see “how the  1% live,” and to add their voice to the demand for an end to wealth inequality in Ireland.

Before the tour moved off, two speakers addressed the crowd. The first, Gregor Kerr from the Workers Solidarity Movement, gave a brief explanation of the background to the 1% Network and the tour itself.

Next up was the first tour guide of the day, éirígí councillor Louise Minihan, who informed the crowd of the various private clubs that are to be found in the vicinity of Stephen’s Green. Many members of the one per cent economic elite are members of such clubs, using them not only to socialise but also to reinforce the old boy networks which are central to Twenty-Six County business and political dealings.

As the tour moved off along Merrion Row, it was clear that the Garda were adopting a low-key presence. This was in stark contrast to the policing of demonstrations at Anglo Irish Bank and Leinster House earlier this year, where the Gardaí attacked protesters on a number of occasions.
The second stop, at 71 Merrion Square, is one of the many residences of billionaire tax dodger Dermot Desmond. Here, Bernie Hughes from the Irish Socialist Network gave the tour a taste of Desmond’s background, including his support for Charlie Haughey and the controversy that has surrounded his business dealings for decades.

Andrew Flood of the Workers Solidarity Movement was the third tour guide, addressing a stop outside of IBEC headquarters on Baggot Street. To boos and jeers, he explained the role that IBEC plays as defender of the one per cent, propagating anti-worker and pro-business sentiment at every available opportunity from every available platform.

With the crossing of Baggot Street Bridge, the tour moved from Dublin 2 into the true heartland of the golden circle in Dublin 4 where the next stop, at Connaught House, was addressed by éirígí’s Daithí Mac An Mhaistír. The building currently houses the headquarters of both Treasury Holdings and the private banking division of Anglo Irish Bank. The full headquarters of Anglo are soon to be moved there as well, as the bank abandons its flagship Stephen’s Green offices in favour of a location less likely to attract protest.

Mac An Mhaistír explained the nature of private banking – a highly secretive sector of the financial industry which can only be accessed by those with extremely large sums of cash to invest. While most of Irish society has not even heard of the private banking sector, the same cannot be said for the one per cent, who are all too familiar with the best ways to avoid and evade the paying of taxation. The éirígí spokesperson also gave a brief rundown on the dealings of Treasury Holdings, a property development company which owes NAMA close to one billion euro.
At the other end of Burlington Road, the tour stopped outside the ‘purple palace’ residence of Treasury Holdings co-owner Johnny Ronan. Here, Grainne Griffin of the Workers Solidarity Movement gave an overview of some of the dealings of Treasury Holdings, including its controversial public private partnership deals with the Twenty-Six County state.

The tour then moved onto Leeson Street and back into Dublin 2 for the next stop at Corrib House, the headquarters Shell Oil’s Irish operation. Here, Caoimhe Kerins brought the tour up to speed on the scandalous giveaway of Ireland’s oil and gas reserves to private energy corporations, including Shell.

Another company to benefit from the great oil and gas giveaway is Providence Resources, a company owned by another leading member of the one per cent, tax dodger Tony O’Reilly. And it was his property on Fitzwilliam Square which formed the next and final stop on the walking tour. From the steps of O’Reilly’s mansion, the Irish Socialist Network’s Stephen Lewis provided a brief summary of the incredible wealth of O’Reilly and his family, as well as the huge influence they exercise on Irish society via their extensive stable of media outlets.

The final speaker of the day was éirígí’s Brian Leeson, who also addressed the tour from the steps of O’Reilly’s Dublin residence.
Leeson urged people to remember that the wealth of the one per cent was, in fact, generated by the rest of the population and, as such, the rest of the population had the right to take back that wealth. He also posed a series of questions, asking people what they would be willing to do over the coming months and years as the business and political establishment attempted to introduce round after round of cutbacks: “Are you willing to march to the gates of Leinster House? Are you willing to block those gates? Are you willing to storm those gates?”

In conclusion, Leeson thanked everyone for attending and informed people that the next 1% Network event would take place on the Halloween weekend, with details to be made public over the coming days.

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