DUBLIN (AP) — A cement truck plastered with anti-bank slogans blocked the entrance to the Irish parliament Wednesday as tensions mounted over the country's debt crisis and enormous bank bailouts.
At least one police guard narrowly escaped being hit as the truck drove up to Leinster House about 7:15 a.m., one lawmaker said. The truck stopped as it touched the entrance's ornate wrought-iron gates but caused no significant damage.
Police arrested the 41-year-old driver, who climbed out of the truck cabin's skylight. The doors of the cement truck — which has been used before in anti-government demonstrations — were welded shut and its windows covered in metal grills to prevent police from gaining access.
Wednesday's protest came several hours before Dail Eireann, Ireland's parliament, was scheduled to convene for the first time in more than two months. Trade union leaders planned to march in protest to the parliament gates as lawmakers arrived in the afternoon.
Public hostility to the government is running high amid surging debts, a series of emergency budgets and a soaring bill for propping up the nation's debt-crippled banks.
Those tensions were writ large on the truck itself. It displayed the slogans "All politicians should be sacked" and, in huge capitalized red letters, "TOXIC BANK," alongside the corporate logo of government-owned Anglo Irish Bank.
The Dublin lender — which borrowed tens of billions from foreign banks to invest in property markets in Ireland, Britain and the United States — was nationalized last year and now looks likely to cost Irish taxpayers more than euro25 billion ($33.6 billion) driving up Ireland's EU-leading budget deficit.
It took three hours to remove the truck from the parliament entrance because its brake lines were also cut to make the move difficult.
One of the few lawmakers in the building when the truck arrived, Fergus O'Dowd, said it nearly hit a police guard.
"If it had been later in the morning, staff could have been killed, the public could have been killed," he said.
But later inspections showed the truck did not ram the gates, which were locked loosely with a padlock and chain and were undisturbed.
Ireland has been mired in recession since the country's decade-long property boom went sharply into reverse in 2008, dragging banks down with it. Anglo Irish owes euro72 billion ($97 billion) to depositors worldwide, but its loan book faces heavy writedowns.
Ireland initially said Anglo's rescue would cost just euro4 billion and now estimates it will cost euro25 billion. But independent analysts say the ultimate cost could top euro35 billion ($47.1 billion) — a fifth of Ireland's gross domestic product.
The government is expected to offer updated cost estimates of the Anglo bailout later this week. It is planning a third straight emergency budget in December expected to slash more than euro3 billion ($4.04 billion) from 2011 spending, an effort that has cut wages and raised taxes across this nation of 4.5 million.