Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Having received a telephone call over a week ago from a Dublin grassroots member named Ciaran, inviting me to visit the Indymedia Centre, I rang the organisation's best-known spokesperson, UCD sociology lecturer Aileen O'Carroll, last Thursday afternoon to double-check that it was permissible for me to go there. She said it was fine, told me it would be open at 5.30 and gave me directions to it.As always...
When I arrived, there were two young Irish people manning a table at the entrance, giving information to visitors and taking their admission fees. I told them I was from the Irish Independent and handed over the two euro. As I was filling in a 'membership' form, a middle-aged couple who seemed to be either German or Dutch were also paying their admission. At the same time, a group of four or five younger people, who looked and spoke Spanish, showed their membership wristbands and went inside.
I entered after them and began reading articles on the wall taken from the Indymedia website. As I read, a young man with a haversack came to the desk. I heard him say he had arrived from Greece and this was his first time in Ireland.
Among the literature papering the walls were website denouncements of the mainstream media, alongside posters condemning "Fortress Europe". I took out my notebook and transcribed the headline from a poster calling for a no vote in "McDowell's racist referendum". I moved on to the next poster, bearing the distinctive W-enclosed-in-an-O symbol of the London-based WOMBLES, the group identified by gardai as posing the most significant threat among the protesters.
I was writing their slogan, "Resistance is Existence" in my notebook when I heard a male Cockney voice ask, "Where are you from?" I turned around and saw that between eight and 10 men and women had formed a semi-circle behind me. I said I was from the Irish Independent.
"Fuck off," spat a tall man, standing intimidatingly close to me. "Fuck off from here." Then other voices, all English, joined him, repeating: "Fuck off." Before I could reply, a small man wearing a black hoodie darted around to my right-hand side and grabbed the notebook out of my hand. He proceeded to prance around the warehouse ripping the pages of notes out of it, tearing them and scattering them on the floor.
I followed him, asking him to give me back my notebook, but found I could not get near him as the other people had insinuated themselves between him and me. They were glaring at me with utter hatred while the small man continued his macabre dance around the room with the notebook.
Only when all my notes had been torn out, did the man in the hoodie thrust the notebook back at me. While the two Irish people were apologising and giving me a contact mobile number so I could try to retrieve the notes later on (to no avail), a woman came over and demanded I leave. She too spoke with a strong English accent. The other people stood beside and behind her as she spoke.
She said she had never known "corporate media" to be allowed into any Indymedia centre she had been in, anywhere in the world. "As soon as she took out her notebook and started doing her business, she was corporate media," the woman said. "Being paid to tell her lies."
The aggression in the room was frightening. I have covered paramilitary funerals and street riots in Northern Ireland, been caught in crossfire in Lebanon and seen a colleague being shot at in Somalia, but I have never felt as vulnerable as I did in Dublin on Thursday.
I feared for my own safety and for the two Irish people who were the only ones prepared to stand up for me. At that point I said I would leave, and I went.
Three hours later, I saw Aileen O'Carroll on Prime Time complaining about the Garda operation and claiming that the anarchists were peaceful. I telephoned her yesterday morning and asked if she had heard what happened when I visited the centre.
"Yeah, yeah, I did," she replied. "That was dreadful. Actually I felt very bad about it."
I asked if her she knew who the people were who had intimidated me and stolen my notes.
"I haven't a clue who they were," she said. "Our organisation isn't involved in organising that space. All we can do is state our intention to have a peaceful protest."
Ireland Indymedia's discussion of the incident here. Not exactly contrite...