Leaked reports that a decision has been made to bring criminal charges against water charge protesters may have been a deliberate attempt to smear those politicians involved.
Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy has written to the Garda Commissioner complaining about the “leaking” that indicate he is one of about 20 people to be charged over the incident in Jobstown, Dublin last November in which Labour leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton was allegedly trapped in her car for two hours.
More than 40 people were arrested by gardai, including Mr Murphy. He described news of the charges as “shocking”.
“It’s seriously bad practice for the information that we are due to charged to be leaked to the media before anyone due to be charged is informed,” he said.
“As a consequence, you have a lot of people in Jobstown worried that they might be facing charges.
“This is going to be a major political trial, potentially in advance of the general election but possibly afterwards. I think it’ll backfire on the Government and Labour in particular.”
It was reported that charges will be brought against Mr Murphy and two Anti-Austerity Alliance councillors, Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon. If Murphy is convicted for over six months, he can be removed from office under the 1992 Electoral Act.
A spokesman for the Courts Service has said waiting times of 10 months currently apply in the Circuit Court. This means protesters due to be charged will not appear in court until after the General Election.
The Socialist TD said it was “completely wrong” that news of the charges to break via the media before any of those to be charged were informed.
“It is scary, especially for those young people who joined a protest for 2 hours and now find themselves possibly facing false imprisonment charges,” the Dublin South West deputy said.
“The whole thing is politically motivated. It was no coincidence that on the day the first arrests were made, all four people arrested were political activists.”
The most serious charge is that of false imprisonment. Other protesters will also appear before the courts in relation to violent disorder, public order and criminal damage charges.
On RTE radio, Mr Murphy has said he was not happy with how the gardai had operated in Jobstown.
“Do I think this was political policing? Yes, absolutely,” he said.
“Ten days of arrests one after the other in the context of a movement that challenges the Government on water charges. That is not normal Garda procedure, and gardai contacted me afterwards to say that that’s not normal procedure.”
Mr Murphy said that people had protested against Ms Burton because “she’s hated”. He said she was responsible for “a sell out on the water charges, for cuts in child benefit, loan parents, rent allowance, so she’s hated in that community right”.
Mr Murphy said the context of the protest was important. He said the Labour party had been popular in the area but this was no longer the case and the protest was also taking place in the context of what he described as a “massive movement” against water charges.
“I don’t think that anybody should have been arrested or should face charges for participating in a protest that delayed the Tanaiste for a couple of hours.”
He said to describe what happened in Jobstown as false imprisonment would be stretching to definition of the term to a “farcical” extent.
The alleged charges were an attack on the right to protest, and any court proceedings would be “a major political trial initiated on foot of political policing”.
“If the Labour Party thinks protesters facing potential prison sentences is going to in some way redeem itself in advance of the next election, it will be sorely mistaken.”
Murphy believes the move will only serve to draw more people out to next national Right2Water protest at the end of this month.
“Let them charge us,” he told RTE radio. “Let them have a jury of our peers because we would be found not guilty, unquestionably.”