RTE outrageously reports 10s of thousands at so called 'March for Life'


Saturday saw the annual anti-choice parade and yet again RTE reported a grossly inflated figure of the number marching.  They headlined it as ‘tens of thousands’ and in the body of the article quoted the organisers claiming 70,000 without further comment, appearing to endorse it.  As we are going to show below at the very least that’s a tenfold exaggeration, in fact by our count about 5300 people took part.  And while that estimate might be out by 10 or even 20% its physically impossible for it to be out by up to 1500% as that would require ten people too fit into a one meter square space.

We use the same counting methodologies (see below) for almost every demonstration that takes place in Dublin, from huge anti water charges protests to smaller but still significant ones on a huge range of issues.  We do these sorts of counts more than a dozen times a year.  We don’t always publicise the numbers we reach - organisers always tend to overestimate somewhat, most often guessing a figure that is twice what actually attended.  Generally we agree with what the demands of a demonstration are so we don’t want to appear to undermine it by publicly providing real numbers.  But we do count, we do use those counts internally in the WSM and we often communicate them directly to organisers. 

Why do we do this?  Because if you want to have a sense of how strong a movement actually is you need to have an idea of the real numbers it can mobilise.  That means we work hard to be as accurate as possible, to do otherwise would defeat the purpose of counting in the first place.  In the case of the campaign there are other, grimmer reasons that we discuss at the end of this piece.


With smaller demonstrations of 5,000 or less its quite easy to count the entire demonstration, not by counting every single person but by standing at a point and counting blocks of 10 people as they pass.  With more patience the same method works for larger demonstrations although you need multiple counters as its hard to keep attention for that long but a method that works almost as well is to count how many people pass in one minute, do that every ten or so minutes, calculate the average per minute and then multiple by the time it takes the march to pass that point.  Videoing this has the advantage that the video will record the time it took to pass and you can also look back at the count - in comparison with the wild range of guesses you hear after protest marches you can make really quite precise calculations.

The counts & calculations for Rally 4 Life

With the Rally 4 Life we recorded the entire march passing the counter protest.  That video is 43 minutes and 29 seconds long, let's generously round up to 44 minutes to make the calculations easier to follow.  When you watch the video you’ll observe the march grinds to a halt a few times, and there is a period of minutes where their own pipe band restricts the flow to a trickle.  We could reasonably take a few minutes off to account for that time - a bit like extra time in a sports game - but we are again going to be generous and not to do.  And we are hardly even going mention that some people - in particular that pipe band - circle back and march past twice!

Our photographer stood still and counted four segments each of one minute duration on the march.  They did the 4th count out loud as they realised that would be audible on the video, this count has been uploaded as a separate video so you can make some sort of judgement about how accurate that count seemed.

The 4 counts of one minute each returned the results below

With each of these we were careful to count a segment that had no buses or lorries (as this would be a lot fewer people) or large gaps between blocs, long periods of not moving.  These allowances will again tend to make for a over estimate of numbers, we are again being generous.  In other words the figures bellow are probably a little too high.

The maths
110+120+100+150 = 480
480 / 4 = 120 average per minute
120 * 44 = 5280 people passing

5280 is of course too precise for the mythology, we should probably round it up to 5500 (again being generous).

Before we countered the last bloc our photographer had the idea of doing the count out loud so it would be audible on the video and anyone could those see if it seemed reasonable.  We’ve uploaded that as a separate shorter video at https://youtu.be/vnxubaHCq0g and would invite you to look at this and see if 150 seems reasonable for that bloc.

You might think there are slightly more people who pass in that minute.  You might think there are slightly less.  For the sake of being generous (once more) lets imagine you think that they undercounted quite badly, that there are really 175 people passing. And lets be generous and say they got all the other blocs wrong and those should also have been 175 people.  How close to the organisers 70,000 or RTEs ‘Tens of thousands’ would that get you.  The maths are easy as the time the march took to pass is very definite so its 175 * 44.  That gives you 7700 people, both these other claims remain almost as ludicrous. 

Lets imagine RTEs admittedly vague 10s of thousands was only intended to imply 30,000 - how many people would need to be in that one minute segment for this to be reasonable.  Again the maths are easy enough 30,000/44 = 682 people.  Watch the one minute segment again, can you see any way of imagining there are 682 people passing, or even half that number.  Finally what about the organisers 70,000 claim, how many would need to be passing for that to be true.  This time its 70000/44 = 1591 people per minute.  Not just in that one minute segment but in every one minutes segment of the entire march!

We asked both teachers and parents what would be a reasonable age to expect someone to be able to understand the maths here.  It varies but kids seem to be taught this sort of maths by 10 or 11 and certainly the average child could do it by the first year of secondary school.  One parent rather generously got their kids to sit down and go through the maths, reporting back that it was “really obvious to the 12yo, a bit hard to follow for the almost 10yo.”

It certainly should not be beyond a RTE journalist or the organisers of the march.  The journalist might well have the excuse that they weren’t there or that they didn’t count so when the organisers claimed 70,000 they decided to save themselves the hassle of orchestrated complaints to their boss and go with what sounded like a safe ‘10s of thousands’.  If that’s the excuse though we’d wonder what exactly they imagine journalism is?  We also wonder if RTE will correct or even comment on their initial report and explain what led to such a massive error in reporting. Don’t worry, we won’t be holding our breadth.

It’s harder to make any sort of reasonable excuse at all for the organisers who claimed 70,000 or almost 1600 people a minute were streaming past the spire.  Nor for the multiple politicians and personalities who all tweeted this figure around the same time as the march ended, no doubt to try and influence media reporting.  In treating the media, the general public and even the march participants as complete fools - 80k was announced from the platform! - they are revealing rather too much about just what they think of the bulk of the population.  This is something to remember as the referendum approaches and all sorts of claims are made.

Why does this matter?  We expect that we have a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment next year.  Under this amendment two young, and therefore raped teenage girls have been sectioned rather than provided with the abortions they have requested in the last month.  Women who have been refused abortions have died, and this has happened at a much greater rate with migrant women.  Under the amendment pregnant people lose control of their bodily autonomy as soon as it is known they are pregnant, at that point the 8th Amendment allows doctors to dictate many many aspects of their many aspects of their pregnancy and birth, not just whether it continues. 

Thousands of people have obtained illegal abortions in Ireland through the use of pills ordered off the internet.  While the procedure is relatively safe all of these people are technically guilty of an offence under which they and anyone aiding them could be jailed for 14 years.  This isn’t a law from the last century but one passed a couple of years back by the then Labour Party / Fine Gael government. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have had the considerable expense and hassle of having to travel to Britain or beyond to get the medical treatment they should be able to access at home.  In some of these cases there was no chance of the foetus they were carrying surviving either to birth or more that a few minutes beyond birth because it has a ‘fatal foetal abnormality’.  On a more general level the 8th amendment is deep patriarchal, a mechanism to infantilise women, rob them of independence and keep them under the control of men at the most fundamental level of denying bodily autonomy.

What will matter the day of the referendum is how people will vote, and we are very confident that if we are giving the clear choice to get rid of the 8th amendment this will be overwhelmingly passed.  But there will be a campaign to try and prevent the 8th amendment being removed, the main slogan of the so called Rally for Life was ‘Keep the 8th’.  And the reason it was essential to the march organisers to be able to make a credible claim to such hugely inflated numbers is the level of abuse and shaming they can use at part of that campaign is dependent on their ability to claim legitimacy as the voice of a lot of people, and not just a deeply regressive tiny minority of religiously motivated bigots.  When the 8th amendment was passed in 1983 those who cared campaign against it were not only abused and shamed they were frequently physically attacked.  Some had animal blood thrown at them.  Many had their workplaces and homes targeted. 

To repeat these tactics this time around the anti-choice bigots have to have the shield of numbers to hide behind. Their activists, the people they were trying to trick with their 80,000 estimate have to believe they are some sort of moral majority heroically fighting a media conspiracy to become that sort of fanatic who loves all sense of compassion.  They don’t and won’t have that shield in the cities but they will be hoping to engage in shame and abuse methods in rural towns and villages in the mistaken hope that enough rural votes can defeat the large margin the cities will pass the referendum by.  Making it clear they represent no one but themselves and there are few of them at that is essential in making such methods socially unacceptable everywhere during the campaign.

Words, videos & calculations: Andrew Flood (follow Andrew on Twitter)

Updated: Recording of RTE News report that sounds like its a press release from anti-choice march

Reactions and replies

A very hostile comment from under our Youtube video  reads "You're a lying bastard, I was there and it stretched from Parnell sq to Eden quay and beyond. You piece of shit." Another person adds "and it was 80,000."

WSM: So the length is neither here nor there in terms of numbers - if only 5300 people passed a single point than only 5300 people marched. But for the sake of argument what does the claimed space covered by the march tell covered us?  Well 80,000 people in ranks of 8 spaced 1m apart and marching in perfect formation with no spaces at all would actually cover 10km. Roughly the distance from Parnell square to the distant suburb of Blanchardstown.  The distance from Parnell square to the end of Eden quay is 850m. 850 * 8 would put a maximum limit of 6,800, no where near 80k, 70k or even 30k but pretty close to 5300.

Didn't the 2016 March for Choice end at the same point?

WSM: Comparisons have been made with the 2016 March for Choice. The March for Choice platform was at the opposite end of the same street (i.e. Dail end) but otherwise both used the same street for the final rally and the same route to get there. 

The March for Choice actually filled the street and we called that 20k (possibly a little generous, the space can cram in 17k).  The video from the Rally posted by Rally4Life shows a pretty spread out crowd at the mid point of the street which along with the stage location confirms a figure in the region of 5-6k.

BTW Google 'Find wally attempt Dublin' and you will find video and pictures of exactly how much space 3,657 take up on Merrion square (west) when packed in together for that 2011 record attempt.  While the 80k figure is clearly a ludicrous lie people do tend to honestly over estimate crowd sizes by a factor of two or even three so the 'Find Wally' photos are a very useful reference for an exact crowd count.