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Saturday May 01, 2004 17:48 by Richard Delevan
Indymedia Own Goal
Justine McCarthy, front page of the Irish Indo Review section today, reports on her pretty nasty experience after being invited to the Indymedia Centre (txt & link below).
Being a professional evil corporate hack myself, who nonetheless believes deeply in both the right to protest and a free press, let me tell you - the English crowd who gave Justine a load of bother has made intimidation the message. Literally, by destroying the notes of interviews with DGN folks.
She's no Brendan O'Connor, provocatively sauntering into the IMC spoiling for a fight. She's probably the most thoughtful and professional journo working at her paper.
Bad call - and if people involved with the IMC expect anyone outside the echo chamber to take their messages seriously, they should condemn this incident for what it is. Simply thuggery.
IRISH INDO - today
Across town, just off the perfect Georgiana of Mountjoy Square, hung with bunting in the national colours of the 25 EU states, is the anarchists' hub. On the exterior facade of the warehouse-style building in Charles Street is a large sign announcing, 'Indymedia Centre'. There is a €2 "membership" admission fee for the weekend, explained by a volunteer as a condition required for insurance purposes. It is being used by the Dublin Grassroots Network, the anarchist movement responsible for this evening's Bring the Noise march, which had been planned to start in Parkgate Street and was billed as a "march to Farmleigh".
The Irish anarchists believe that mainstream media reports of the risk-assessment and security build-up for the weekend are a Garda ploy to scare citizens away from the march, to incite protesters to riot and to provide advance justification for any police violence which might occur.
The Irish anarchists insist their protest is intended to be peaceful. They say that Garda estimates of between 250 and 300 identified troublemakers travelling to Dublin from abroad, intent on causing chaos, are untrue. Their estimates are that few, if any, have travelled from continental Europe and that the numbers coming from Britain are a fraction of that Garda estimate; maybe 50 at most.
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.
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.
At this point, the two Irish people who had been at the entrance came to help me. They were visibly shocked by what was happening and asked the others to stop.
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."
She went on to say that two (Irish) people buying "a spray can" in the city on Thursday had been "taken to Store Street Garda station, strip-searched, interrogated and let go".
Following that conversation, Ciaran, the man who had initially extended the invitation to visit the centre, phoned me and apologised for what happened. He said that the British anarchists were "amazed at the relationship the Irish anarchists had with mainstream media. They're stunned that we're holding press conferences and we're going on radio and so on."
He added: "We had a huge row last night with them over the fact that we're having a press conference." One of the two Irish people who had come to my aid in the centre had already telephoned and told me that the man in the hoodie who had stolen my notebook was Italian and that he was very friendly with the people from London.
"They were chatting together. There was a bit of closing of ranks after you left. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to care. I think we've all been a bit naive, actually," he admitted. "I'm quite disillusioned myself. I thought there would be basic respect. If a cop wants an Indymedia journalist's video they've no right to take it, just as nobody has the right to take your notes. I would consider that theft."
It is obvious that serious divisions have surfaced between the Irish anarchists and some of the protesters from overseas, particularly those from Britain. At the same time that I received an emailed apology yesterday from Dr Laurence Cox, a Maynooth university lecturer and spokesman for Dublin Grassroots Network, another email was sent to Irish newspaper offices from someone styling themselves "Black Dog".
It was a lie from beginning to end, claiming that I had entered the centre undercover, that I had been writing down the names of the people present and that the Irish man who had come to my assistance was an infiltrator pretending to be an Indymedia volunteer.
While the Irish anarchists behaved with decency and concern, the incident brought into sharp focus the chasm between their agenda and the intentions of some of the people from abroad. Most worryingly, it showed that the Irish, as hosts, have virtually no control over their guests. None of it bodes well for Dublin today.