Resistance to austerity in Ireland has until recently been largely muted. In 2013 domestic water charges were introduced and throughout 2014 a series of protests against the charges emerged, culminating in over 90 separate marches on November 1. In this paper we examine the discourses which are produced and circulated by politicians and the mainstream media about this protest movement, and offer a brief insight into the contemporary Irish context of austerity and crisis. We analyse the role of the phrase 'sinister fringe' as a discursive device, and unpick the ways in which it has been used to explain the water charges protests to the Irish public. Our conclusions speak to the currency of the protest paradigm as a means of understanding news media reporting of protest. Ultimately we raise concerns regarding the effects of this dominant frame on deliberative democracy.