Less blarney, more blimey

by Suw on March 3, 2006

Just sitting in the airport at Dublin, waiting for my flight back to London*. Wifi seems to be non-functional, which is a shame, as it's ubiquitous throughout the airport, it's just ubiquitously crap.
I came over to see the guys from Digital Rights Ireland, and to give a lecture at Trinity College as part of the Legal Worships series organised by Dr Eoin O'Dell. As it happened, Ren Bucholz from Online Rights Canada and the EFF was also in town so we got to meet and have a chat with DRI about how the three (well, four if you count the EFF too) organisations could work together. This sort of alliance is going to be key to combating poor legislation and defending digital rights and sharing our information and concerns is going to be most productive.
An then, on top of all that I got a riot thrown in as a free extra bonus.
The riot was kind of strange, really. We were sitting in a Cafe Metro in the city centre, a few roads away from where the trouble was, but had Simon not had an RSS news feed set up on his mobile, I'm not sure we would have found out about it at all. Reports vary, as you'd probably expect, but it seems that the trouble started around 12.30pm, and went on for a couple of hours. By the time we'd finished with our extended lunch at 3.30pm, it was pretty much all over.
Walking down Nassau Street, though, was a bit of an odd thing. Smashed up shop windows, blackened patches of road where council workmen were working to clear up the mess left by the the car that had, until just a few hours previously, been parked on that spot, and then further up, a very upset woman standing looking at the still smouldering remains of her own car. There really wasn't much left, just a blackened skeleton of a car sitting in a heap of ashes, whispers of smoke rising silently into the air.
Across the road, a school minibus which once proudly proclaimed that it had been 'donated by the parents' stood, all but a few windows smashed in.
As we walked further up, round to O'Connell Street where it all started, there were more shattered and bulls-eyed windows, more black patches on the ground where the rioters burnt pallets scrounged from the redevelopment work going on along the whole length of the road. The reek of burning rubbish from a large bin still smouldering. Most of the street had been tidied up by the time we got there, but from the photos on Flickr and in the press you can see how the rioters used the paving slabs, barriers, and even a wheelbarrow as missiles to throw at the Gardaí.
The ostensible cause of the riot was the Love Ulster march that had been planned for that afternoon, but many of the rioters, according to press here, were opportunists. (I'm sure that some of those here for the rugby were delighted to find themselves presented with the chance to enjoy a little mayhem.) There was looting as well, and walking past some of the stores you could see their stock strewn on the floor behind the bent and buckled security screens that obviously weren't able to resist the onslaught of Lithuanians (in at least one case) desperate for new trainers.
I'm glad that we were a few streets away from the trouble. I have no doubt that it would have been terrifying to have been caught up in it, as a lot of shoppers and real rugby fans were. But after the fact, walking through Dublin with my DRI friends, all of us pointing out the worst of the damage and exclaiming as yet another ambulance hurtled past, it all seemed a bit distant.
This was the worst riot in Dublin for 20 – 30 years. But as with the Londoner's reaction to IRA terrorism in the early 90s, the mood amongst my hosts was more annoyance than shock. More 'what a disgraceful exhibition of poor behaviour' than 'oh my god, how could this possibly have happened'. Indeed, some posited that the riot had been allowed to occur for political reasons. Certainly, it seems odd that there were so few Gardaí around, and that they found themselves a little unprepared. Rumour had it that the rioters had been bused in by the coachful, and that makes more than a little sense.
By the time we got up to where it all started, it was pretty much back to normal, except for the workmen putting up plywood against the broken windows and random TV cameras left on tripods waiting for someone to take them away.
The most noticeable effect of the riot, other than the burnt out cars, was the way that the city locked right down. The Book of Kells was shut. The museums. Most of Trinity College's entrances. There was a picture gallery open, but I didn't see anything much because as soon as we got inside, a journalist rang wanting to know about the UK's National Vehicle Tracking Database.
The rest of the weekend was far less eventful, but far more enjoyable. Finally did get to see the Book of Kells, which is far, far smaller than you think it's going to be, and far, far more beautiful. It is truly amazing how finely detailed the illustrations are, and how beautiful the colours, even after all this time.
My hosts were a lot of fun, so thanks very much to Noirin and her family, Simon, TJ, Antoin, Colm, and everyone else who looked after me and kept me entertained.
* Of course, this post wasn't finished where it was started. I'm now sitting on my bed in Euston. More comfortable by half.

Anonymous March 4, 2006 at 1:56 am

I was wondering Suw, why there was nothing on the news tonight about this. Of course … the time-delayed post. We have pod-casting, and now we have post-casting.

Anonymous March 4, 2006 at 1:55 pm

I'm truly sorry that you got to see my lovely, lovely Dublin at such a time of disgusting stupidity.
Clearly the Gardai completely underestimated the impact the march would have. I mean – a crowd of Orangemen stomping down O'Connell Street waving the Union Jack, ffs? 1972 isn't all that long ago. It was pretty much inevitable that the maggot element would want to have a go.
Seems clear that there were opportunists involved and a certain 'organized' element to the thing, perhaps – but really. There was no way it needed to come to this.
I'm sorry.

Anonymous March 5, 2006 at 2:24 am

Sad to hear, Suw – I've been to Dublin more times than I can count (being from the glorious North-West of Wales) and have many Irish friends. The Book is a must. Plus, the Gardai normally love a chance to act tough – the others might be right about a conspiracy
Which airport did you fly back into, by the way?
hwyl, or'ecspatynllundain,

Anonymous March 7, 2006 at 10:02 pm

Hi Suw,
Thought I say thanks for the informative talk here in dublin, you held you own with those legal types, more power to ya! hope the riot won't discourage you from returning soon.
Kind Regards,
Steve. (one of the 'hippy geeks' messing in the back row)

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