Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Water protesters again in Court


Eighteen people, including Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy and Anti-Austerity Alliance councillors Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon are to stand trial in the Circuit Criminal Court in relation to a protest in Jobstown last November involving Tánaiste,(Deputy Prime Minister) Joan Burton and her special advisor. All 18 are due back in court on 14 December where the Book of Evidence is expected to be served in all cases. 

Sixteen of those brought before Dublin District Court this Monday, including Mr Murphy, were charged with falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Karen O'Connell at Fortunestown Road on 15 November 2014.  Two others were charged with violent disorder. Solicitor Cahir O'Higgins, who represented a number of the accused, claimed the height of the State's case was accusing people of the unlawful imprisonment of a vehicle, not a person.

On Monday, a number of cases were heard in the court  relating to several different protests, which a barrister for the defence described as “unusual”. United Left TD Joan Collins was among those who appeared in court. She is charged with failing to comply with the directions of a Garda during a protest in Crumlin in April. In total, 11 people including Collins have been charged with public order offenses. They are due back in court on 30 November.

Derek Byrne is one of three people charged with using threatening and abusive language at an event in January involving President Michael D Higgins. Solicitor Cahir O’Higgins, who is representing a large number of the accused, including Byrne, said the case raised important issues in relation to the right to freedom of speech. He told Justice Michael Walsh that it raised an issue as to whether or not President Higgins could be summonsed to court to give evidence in the case. O’Higgins said he had asked on a number of occasions for “full, complete disclosure” from the prosecution in relation to all documents, interviews and CCTV footage in relation to the charges of his defendants.

He told the court he had written on some occasions two or three times. The prosecution told the court it was aware of a UTV film crew present at the Jobstown protest and said it had sought copies of the footage from the station which might be used in evidence. O’Higgins said he was also seeking CCTV footage from a Maxol station in Crumlin that may be able to provide evidence in one case pertaining to Pat Burke. O’Higgins said it may show the court that his defendant was not in the vicinity long enough to carry out the charges the state alleges: failure to comply with direction of a member of An Garda Síochána. Judge Michael Walsh said that Gardaí must use everything in their power to have the footage handed over within four weeks.

O’Higgins said he was also seeking full disclosure from the prosecution in relation to correspondence between GMC Sierra (the contractor for water meter installation), Irish Water and the Gardai.

“It is relevant in this respect… it was a peaceful protest like a dozen others… with unusual policing,” he said. He told Judge Walsh the correspondence will indicate the nature of the policing on the day of the Jobstown protest. The court was then told by the state’s counsel that it was unclear whether such correspondence existed. O’Higgins said it was his belief that it did exist, and wanted full disclosure of the documents. Judge Walsh refused to give a formal order for the correspondence to be presented, but said O’Higgins had a right to ask for them to be made available. “Anything in your possession must be handed over to Mr O’Higgins,” Judge Walsh said to the state.

Addressing the court, O’Higgins said it was “unusual” to have so many cases, relating to various incidents and various protests, being carried through the court simultaneously. He said “to put it precisely” he found it “surprising” the DPP had sought to group the cases together, some of which happened on various dates, and which carried varying charges. Judge Walsh said that some “constitutional issues” will arise during the course of a number of the trials, referencing the right to free speech and the right to protest. O’Higgins applied for the judge to certify for dual counsel on some cases, stating that the “boundaries” will be tested on the right to protest.

Judge Walsh said some of the issues pertain to the European Conventions and will therefore be outside of the realm of what a solicitor operating in the court would typically have to deal with and granted his request in one of the cases. There were large crowds outside the Criminal Courts of Justice on the day in support of the water charges protesters. Court 3 was filled to capacity and there were a large number of Gardai present in the Parkgate Street campus in Dublin.

In the original incident, police seemed more interested in provoking individual protesters than in "rescuing" Ms Burton which they belatedly did by transferring her to one of their own vehicles which they could have done at once rather than waiting the length of time that they did. As the defence solicitor pointed out in court it was a vehicle that was being "imprisoned"
not Ms Burton.

Ms Burton leaving the area with Gardai.

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