How many people were at the household charge protest?

Estimating  the size of the crowd at protests can be a pain the head. However, things get vastly easier if the protest stops somewhere and you have fairly clear photographs of the protesters and the area they are occupying, ideally taken from a vantage point.

The household charge protest yesterday meets those requirements when it was outside the Dublin convention centre in the Docklands.

From within the convention centre, David Cochrane of had such an advantage point to take photos. He stitched the images together and posted the combined image to the Facebook page. He says the protest was static at the time. The crowd all in one pic is also shown on — while this image shows the mass of the crowd all in one, it does not show us the ends (but Cochrane’s image already shows us this).

Now you need to get the area. Roughly Cochrane’s image shows that the protest fills Guild Street from the quay side to nearly as far as the Luas tracks, as well as a small bit onto the Samuel Beckett bridge and a a few meters west on North Wall Quay. Along Guild Street, in satellite view, Google Maps still shows the current park and footpath (where the protest barrier is located) as part of the buildings site, but with local knowledge, we know that the location is just meters past the old wall shown on Google Maps.

Roughly, but at the same time conservatively, the protest filled at least this area:

(If the map image does not show, click here to see it on Twitpic)

That’s just under 4,000 meters squared (3974.41 m²). Because this is an estimate, we’ll just say 4,000 m².

But how many people are there per square meter? Yesterday, on the way to what turned out to be a tram which was not running, I walked past the south-west end of the protest and it looked fairly compact (it was hard to get past with a pram!), but it’s best to rely on an overall view. Images from news site including this gallery on also show an overall fairly compact crowd, with some spread out bits — there’s some places where there’s gaps but in the middle and near to the top of the barriers people are very close together.

Writing about protest crowd counting, the BBC says: “…three people per square metre is comfortable and four is like a rock concert”.

Going by the photographs and the rest of the above, one person per square meter would be far more spread out than what is shown. Given the protest area was conservatively 4,000  m², that discounts the lower estimates for yesterday of 4,000 people.

While there might be parts of the protests near the barriers which look a bit like a rock concert closeness, it does not meet that level overall. If as the BBC says “three people per square metre is comfortable” and that could be applied to the protest, then there would have been about 12,000 people. That would put the upper estimate above the 10,000 protesters claimed by some of the organisers.

But going by the photographs — which have to be relied on because this writer did not walk around the protest — there were some significant gaps which make three people per square meter unrealistic. The 10,000 figure could be more realistic as an upper estimate.

What about the lower range? If three people per square metre is comfortable, two per square meter must be very comfortable. Two people per square meter in this case is 8,000 people — well above most reported estimates.

Even if you departed from all of the above evidence and came up with a very conservative estimate of 1.5 people per square meter, that gives 6,000 people which is again above most reported estimates.

But going by the evidence, between 8,000 to 10,000 people is our estimate.

For the record: We also estimated the numbers at a past protest, which was other issues.  The figure we arrived at was 10,000 people less than the most reported figure, and an eye-watering 60,000 less that the crazy higher estimate reported by The Guardian for the protest. So, it’s not a case of the media always doing one thing or another, in that case the media had a high figure and in this case a fairly low one.

MAIN IMAGE: William Murphy / infomatique on Flickr, CC some rights reserved.

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2 Comments for “How many people were at the household charge protest?”

  1. Good to see some media giving an estimate with the methodolgy included. However what your missing is the section of the North Quays running back up towards Liberty Hall which wasn’t viewable from the conference center. Much of this was also full for the first 30 minutes after the rally had started, the road being fairly packed the very wide pavement/boardwalk area less so. That section ran back roughly to the building that can be seen on the boardwalk. There is a photo of a section of that portion of the crowd at taken from my vantage point on the bridge

    Using your methods above this would make 10,000 a reasonably conservative estimate of the number who marched to the conference center

  2. Diarmuid Breatnach

    My own estimate and that of a number of other observers was of around 10.000. I appreciated what appeared to be a genuine effort to get the estimate right and also a discussion of methodology.
    With regard to the comment on reporting, although the mass media may on occasion overestimate anti-government protest numbers, on personal experience I and many others have come to the conclusion that in general the opposite is the case and this is particularly so with RTÉ and the Independent but extends even to the Irish “newspaper of record”, the Irish Times.

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