In the rare, blistering spring sunshine, hundreds of people gathered in Herbert Park, Dublin to protest the lockdowns by living their lives. It was not so much a protest as a mini St. Patrick’s Day festival. There was no alcohol, no raucousness, no violence, no “right-wing extremism”, just friends and family celebrating the beauty of life. There was music and singing, balloon animals and bubbles for the kids, and a communal sense that challenging the “new normal” requires only that we embrace the old normal. They say the best revenge is living well. In the era of Covid restrictions, the best protest is simply living.
Dubbed Le Chéile Day (Day Together), the mini festival sought to highlight the devastating impact that Covid restrictions have had on mental health. With people left unemployed, businesses ruined, people socially isolated, and domestic abuse on the rise, the mental health of the Irish public may be at the worst it has ever been. Professor Dolores Cahill, a professor of medicine and a vocal lockdown opponent, called on the crowd to “stand in love, stand in truth, stand in your freedom, and stand in justice”. Attendees I spoke to felt they were being deceived, that the use of lockdowns was not supported by scientific data and goes against the advice of the WHO, which cautioned that lockdowns should not be the primary mechanism to fight Covid, as they increase poverty and have many other detrimental impacts. They believe that the Covid restrictions put in place are grossly unconstitutional, contravening Irish constitutional rights to travel, to peaceably assembly, and to attend religious services.
Dr. Anne McCloskey, a former Derry City councillor who resigned over the government’s handling of the pandemic, was critical of the behavior of the Gardaí during the pandemic. She claimed that the police were defying their oath to uphold and defend the constitution by enforcing unconstitutional Covid restrictions. Despite warnings that 2,500 Gardaí would be deployed in Dublin to break up any protests, the Le Chéile Day festival was not interfered with by the police, despite hundreds being in attendance without wearing masks or social distancing. Protests in the city center and at RTÉ studios were broken up, resulting in sixteen arrests. A few dozen Gardaí were in attendance, but stayed well distant from the festival itself. The presence of many families with children at the event may have deterred them from intervening. Forcibly dispersing a crowd with children would have been a PR disaster for the Gardaí.
This restraint from the Gardaí goes to show that the best way to protest now is to not protest at all, but simply to live. It is easy for the Gardaí to justify dispersing a large crowd of angry and disruptive protesters shouting about “the new world order” and “vaccine genocide”, but justifying the dispersal of a crowd of happy families enjoying the sunshine and playing with their kids in the park is not so easy. The best protest is living well.