Revealed: Man who organises anti-meter flash demos throughout city
WATER protesters in the capital have organised into a self-styled 'flying column' that disrupts meter installation sites, the Herald can reveal.
With the cost of monitoring protests nationwide put at around €5m, a small group has been travelling around Dublin looking for water contractors to disrupt.
The group, which includes hard-line republicans and people who conceal their identities, has adopted the name of famous IRA units from the War of Independence.
A Facebook page operated by taxi driver and failed Eirigi local election candidate Damien Farrell called for protesters to descend last week on Mount Argus Grove, Harold's Cross.
As a result there was a heavy garda presence, including the force's helicopter.
Seven protesters were arrested last Wednesday. None of those detained were residents of the estate.
Another Eirigi member and a Republican Sinn Fein activist were among those arrested but later released without charge.
Mr Farrell (46), who insisted that last week's protests were peaceful, confirmed to the Herald that he is one of the administrators of a "D8. & D.12 Say No To Water Tax" Facebook page that frequently accuses gardai of being heavy-handed.
It is also the page that puts out calls for action by the flying column group.
"The flying column - it's not actually just Dublin 8 or Dublin 12. It reaches both sides of the city and beyond in some cases," said Mr Farrell.
"There's no structure to it. It's pretty loose. It could be anything from 10 or 12 people up to 25."
He said the name came about because "they're moving - they move from their area into other areas" rather than any "nationalist connotation".
Mr Farrell, who has been arrested twice at protests but has never been charged, played down involvement by what he described as "dissident republicans".
He pointed out that the protest group also includes non-political community activists and ordinary residents who oppose the installation of water meters.
Mr Farrell was present at Mount Argus Grove last Wednesday morning, but says he had left before the seven arrests took place.
He admitted that protesters concealing their faces can be "construed to say that it appears sinister", adding: "We try to discourage it as best we can."
But Mr Farrell, who does not cover his face, said protesters hide their identity because they fear the "possible consequences" of injunctions or repercussions for their job if they are photographed or identified.
"To arrest seven people is a bit high in what was a relatively quiet, peaceful protest," he claimed of last Wednesday's events.
The Facebook page posted 13 locations for Irish Water workers around Dublin's south city in the past month.
Mr Farrell said the group has followed water workers around the city, but added that it is to make sure they are not moving on to a new site after an earlier protest.
He denied this was a sinister practice, adding: "We certainly wouldn't participate in following anybody home."
Contractors have claimed they have been followed home.
Put to him that the cost of policing protests like his is a waste of money, Mr Farrell agreed that gardai are responsible for public order and "there has to be a presence there".
However, he questioned the numbers deployed, saying they were "not needed".
"It's something we've always been conscious of, the possible perception that they're there because we're there," he said.
Mr Farrell got almost 600 votes in last year's local elections before being eliminated.
"We feel the anti-water charge campaign is where we need to focus all of our energy," he said.
Mr Farrell has attended a string of protests in recent times.
Footage of one of his two arrests, at a meter installation site near Clanbrassil Street, was posted on You Tube last October. In the video, Mr Farrell is seen standing behind the barriers where workers are to install a meter.
A garda asks him to "desist from obstructing" and he replies: "It's a peaceful protest, guard."
Mr Farrell claims his brief detention on both occasions was wrong.
"I don't relish being arrested," the Eirigi member said.
The hard-line republicanism of Eirigi is viewed as extremist by many people, and the group opposes the Good Friday Agreement peace deal in the North.
"Anybody who's not mainstream republican in the context of Sinn Fein, pro-Good Friday Agreement is tagged as dissident," Mr Farrell said, adding that he rejects that label.
Mr Farrell said he is opposed to water charges, arguing that "it's an austerity measure that's one too far" and claimed Irish Water is a company "on the road to privatisation".