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Protesting is not an Irish trait -- a good thing too

WHEN you see the images of Syntagma Square in Athens filled with protesting citizens, getting barraged by tear gas and hauled off by police as they shout and wave their banners against the austerity measures being imposed on them, do you feel a slight twinge of envy or are you relieved that that sort of thing would never happen in O'Connell Street?

We're rubbish at street protests in this country. The French turn up under the Eiffel Tower in their hundreds every second day to give out about something or other; the Brits demonstrate en masse about everything from council charges to slut walks and the Spanish simply down tools and move into tents on the streets of Madrid, hollering about the latest nasty decision visited on them by their government.

We're mere grumblers.

But are we the cleverer ones after all? We prefer to sit in the long grass and bide our time to protest at the ballot box rather than engaging in knee-jerk reactions which would just paint us in a bad light.

None of the shouty protests seem to make a blind bit of difference anyway, particularly where the economy's involved. After all, the IMF is running Greece now, same as us and who do you think they consider better Europeans or might be more likely to do a favour for?


The discontented and angry but orderly and calm Irish, whose only violent mustering on the streets was a lone property developer driving a cement truck almost into the gate of Leinster House, or the riotous brawling Greeks?

The Athens street protesters call themselves The Indignant movement and may well be exercising their democratic right, but they don't seem to be for anything. "Those who created the problem cannot solve it, no matter how many government reshuffles they carry out," they say.

Fair enough and actually, ditto.

Then they go on: "We'll stay here until everybody is gone; the government, the troika and the debt."

Right, well, we know what you don't want then. The problem is that protesting, of itself, is utterly unproductive -- apart from allowing angry people vent a little. It doesn't actually solve any problems, or even offer solutions. It's just against things.

We've seen the same from the "burn the bondholder" brigade here -- usually those sitting in well paid State jobs on the extreme left. It's all well and good to protest, but ideas and solutions are what count, not roaring and shouting.

And because we know violence is never a solution, we use a far more lethal weapon to express our disapproval. No, not Joe Duffy, although it seems like it sometimes, but we prefer to keep politicians on their toes by using humour.

We're great at poking fun, satirising, writing funny songs and taking the mickey out of our leaders. It keeps them on their toes and humble. In most other countries it's nigh on impossible to ever see a government minister, let alone talk to one directly.

Here, you just march up to their clinic, write a letter to their local paper or meet them outside the Dail. The very accessibility -- even if it doesn't make a real difference -- obviates the need for roaring and shouting in large numbers.


It's not to say some protests don't matter: remember the grey brigade who got their pension cuts successfully overturned (for a while anyway) or the large numbers marching over the invasion of Iraq. We took to the streets this week about special needs teaching being chopped. But we're not natural marchers. In Greece, France and Spain it's almost a national sport.

We may be wimps in comparison, but would our outcomes be any different if we stormed parliament rather than radio talk shows?

Undoubtedly not, and often the quieter voice is the stronger one.