Protesters clash with riot police in Athens

In Greece last May, at least 50,000 demonstrators, including teachers and nurses, rampaged through the streets of Athens burning buses, cars and banks in protest at the cutbacks dictated by the IMF's €110bn bailout of the country.

France is not facing anything like the austerity measures on the cards here, but last month the streets of Paris were again engulfed in flames and tear gas as thousands protested against Nicolas Sarkozy's attempt to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age.

Last week, students rioted in London against an increase in college fees while protestors also took to the streets in Lisbon adamant that they would not accept the cutbacks planned in the Portuguese budget next week.

But in Ireland, while the people have already endured €14bn of swingeing cutbacks and are facing another €15bn over the next four years all to bail out the banks, the shrillest protest involved a bit of paint poured over health minister Mary Harney and a lump of cheese thrown at her ministerial car. Yesterday's good-humoured protest in Dublin didn't manage even that.

The student protests here did raise some reaction but the relatively small level of violence – some of it by gardaí – was widely condemned as simply not on.

Members of the international press here to chart our Icarus-like fall from grace speculated the protestors must be corralled out in the urban ghettoes.

But outside of well-rehearsed anger from callers to Liveline and its TV equivalent, The Frontline, Ireland doesn't do street protest, at least not at the intensity practised by our continental European colleagues.

Even before yesterday's Ictu march, callers to RTÉ and other stations were haranguing Ictu president Jack O'Connor for calling on people to join the protest.

The head of the Department of Sociology in UCD, Kieran Allen, has more faith in the Irish form of protests, particularly on local issues such as the protest against the closure of Navan hospital last month, which attracted 11,000, and which he feels is a portent of things to come.

"We don't have water charges here because in the past people protested against their introduction. We don't have nuclear power stations here because thousands of Irish people wouldn't let it happen," said Allen.

But Allen also acknowledges that the unions' involvement in social partnership with the government and employers has blunted the appetite for protest.

"Because of partnership over the last 20 years the unions have been very tardy in their response to the crisis until now," said Allen who has been a consistent critic of the partnership process.

Community and social organisations which would normally be to the forefront of protests have been terrified to step outside the partnership tent for fear of losing their funding, he said.

In the last union protest in February 2009, thousands of public servants took to the streets in protests against threatened wage cuts. But finance minister Brian Lenihan barely blinked and went ahead with the cuts.

"People are asking what is the point of a one-day protest when the unions don't do anything after it except talk. Union leaders here don't have the same strength of purpose as the French," said Allen.