GARDAI were called to the streets of Limerick city this Friday morning as An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan came under fire from a group of angry protesters.
Extraordinary scenes began to unfold shortly before 10am as a group of around 20 from the Anti-Austerity Alliance gathered at the corner of Cruises Street and O’Connell Street where the Taoiseach Enda Kenny was due to arrive for a canvas ahead of the local and European elections.
“This is a crime scene. We are blowing the whistle on austerity. We are blowing the whistle on water charges,” shouted Tony Hogan, a father-of-five from Ardnacrusha who took a half day off work to join the protest over the water charges.
Standing in the rain outside the window of McDonald’s fast food outlet was Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan. Beside him a number of local representatives.
“Michael, how has austerity affected you?,” shouted Mr Hogan, into the face of the finance minister. The minister told him to “go away” and “leave me alone”.
“What do you mean go away? How dare you say ‘go away’, you traitor,” retorted Mr Hogan. “ You have some cheek. How has austerity affected you Michael?,” he asked again.
Local politicians and ministerial staff moved in front of the finance minister as Mr Hogan continued to chant.
Government policies, Mr Hogan told the media, “are leading to people jumping into the rivers”.
“There is something like 57 repossession cases on in Limerick today in the courthouse. It’s absolutely disgraceful.”
As the crowd became more vocal, word came through that gardai were en route.
At 10.15am, the anti-austerity group scampered towards O’Connell Street where they rounded the car of An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
A hooded man approached the Fine Gael leader. “Take down the hood. Tell him to take down the hood,” asked some local representatives.
The Taoiseach listened, as the politicians and media jockeyed for positions in the scrum.
The Taoiseach cocked his ear when Ann O’Brien approached to tell him of her concerns over the water charges. Whistles continued to blow and a protester continued to shout verbals through a mega phone.
Making his way up O’Connell Street towards Thomas Street, the Taoiseach kept his composure, smiled and shook the odd hand that came his way.
When asked by this newspaper what he thought of the scenes he replied: “energetic”. Was he disappointed by it? “No,” he replied, calmly, “meet it all the time!”
“People have a perfectly legitimate right to protest,” he went on. “ I have a job to do - sort out the economy, give people opportunities for jobs and employment and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s never easy,” he said turning onto Thomas Street as more that 50 people now trailed behind him.
Standing outside Gloria Jean’s cafe was Brian Hinchy from Garryowen.
Brian is disabled. his medical card was taken off of him. “I have €18,000 a year. My medical card was taken off me Enda,” he told the Taoiseach.
“How much have you a year Enda?,” he asked. “I have €185,000,” replied the Taoiseach.
Move on, the Taoiseach was told by his minders. He stayed.
“If you want to give me the details I will take them for you,” said the Taoiseach. “The forms are in your medical department, have a look at them Enda,” said Mr Hinchy.
Next up was Little Catherine Street. Two middle-aged women sheltering under the canopy of O’Connell’s butchers waved and smiled at Enda.
The Taoiseach lapped it up and walked inside the award-winning butchers.The barbecue sauce caught his eye. He complimented the Limerick ham, and told the staff they would need to feed the hungry Kerryman beside him, MEP Sean Kelly.
Outside the butchers, the angry crowd were thirsty for blood.
Pushing a buggy, Jackie Kelly from Hyde Road stayed hot on the Taoiseach’s heels as he made his way back towards Cruises Street.
“I have disabled children. He is putting another bill on top of us that we can’t afford. He is taking the water from our children’s mouths. It’s the children are suffering. I am going to catch him,” she said making ground on the Fine Gael leader.
Outside Penney’s, a ministerial black Merc transporting the Taoiseach was all fired up, ready for road. Dressed all in black, was mother-of-one, Alison Keller a volunteer with the Austerity Alliance. She had to have a word with the Taoiseach before he left.
“I asked him how could he sleep at night knowing that the people of this country are in such misery with no money to pay our basic bills not to mind these extra taxes,” said the 29-year-old.
“I’ve no job, I’ve a child. I get €210 a week. My ESB bill at the moment is €350. I had my child’s communion for which I had to make money appear out of thin air which I managed to do,” she said, as the black Merc carrying the Taoiseach swept down O’Connell street and out of sight.