Tens of thousands of people opposed to the introduction of new austerity measures protested in Dublin on Wednesday in a rare mass demonstration that increases pressure on the Irish government.
Dublin committed to impose water charges as part of its EU-IMF bailout but with the first bills set to arrive in the new year, a massive campaign emerged in recent months calling for an abolition of the fees.
After nationwide protests, Prime Minister Enda Kenny's coalition government last month slashed the charges in an embarrassing climbdown but opposition has remained.
Anti-Austerity Alliance lawmaker Paul Murphy, who campaigned against the charges to win a Dublin by-election in October, said charging for water was a step too far for most people.
"The reason why the protests are as large and substantial as they are is because water charges have become the lightning rod for all of the accumulated anger and discontent of six years of austerity," he said.
'We Won't Pay'
The Irish economy has recovered strongly since exiting an EU-IMF bailout last December but many people have yet to feel the benefits with unemployment still well above 10%.
"Ordinary people are seeing that what's being created is a recovery for the rich at the expense... of the people," Murphy added.
There were no prolonged protests in Ireland after it sought an international rescue, unlike violent scenes witnessed in Greece.
On Wednesday, protesters from across the country gathered outside parliament chanted "No way, we won't pay."
Organiser Brendan Ogle put the number of protesters at between 60,000 and 80,000 but Irish police did not have an estimate.
The minister responsible for the water charges, Environment Minister Alan Kelly, described the protest as "a significant day" but insisted there would be no further climbdown. "The package that has been put forward is the best package that is available. The majority of reasonable people have come with us in relation to this," he said.
>Opposition leader with the Sinn Fein party, Gerry Adams told the crowds that Dublin had not done enough. "We have put the government on the run. We must stay together to end austerity," he said.
Support for the coalition parties slumped again in the latest Irish Times poll last week, but Kenny is adamant the government will last its full term of office until 2016.
Kenny’s satisfaction rating is at its lowest point since 2002 when he became leader of the centre-right Fine Gael party.
-Conor Barrins, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014