There have been international protests after a judge in Dublin convicted a 15-year-old boy of illegally “imprisoning” the Irish Tanaiste [Deputy Prime Minister] by peacefully demonstrating against water charges in front of her police-escorted car.
The Dublin west TD and former Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton had been at an event in west Dublin when a protest against the government’s austerity measures took place outside.
The boy, now aged 17, had joined a protest against the former Tanaiste and her advisor in two garda police cars, surrounded by other gardai, during the demonstration in Jobstown in Tallaght on November 15, 2014. Burton and her advisor claimed that they were too frightened to get out of Garda cars, despite video footage emerging of them appearing to laugh and discuss how to garner publicity from the situation.
Last year, shortly after the boy had turned 16, ten gardai showed up at the door of his parents’ home, and in a heavy-handed early morning arrest operation the terrified teen was taken to a cell in Tallaght garda station. He went on trial this week at the Dublin Children’s Court and faced the possibility of custodial sentence of up to two years.
The boy’s legal team had asked Judge John King to dismiss the charges. His barrister argued that it his was a right to protest case. He had also contended that the prosecution was “unprecedented” and a “recipe for totalitarianism” and that there was an agreement with gardai that protesters would march ahead of a car carrying the two women.
Testifying, Joan Burton had said she felt “menaced” and added “I worried what will happen if they manage to open the car doors”. She said protesters were banging on the roof and doors and shouting insults.
Under cross-examination, she insisted she had been imprisoned. “Are you suggesting I had an alternative, of leaving the car? Because I don’t think I had,” she replied.
Following the four days of hearing evidence and legal arguments, the boy, who cannot be named because he is a minor, was found guilty by the judge who held it was “indisputable” that the former Labour leader and her advisor were detained against their will, and that the boy “was present throughout”.
He said that all the elements of common design were laid out and he was satisfied that the offence as charged had been proven beyond reasonable doubt and he was entitled to convict.
The youth appeared shocked at the verdict and the judge allowed a break before proceeding to finalise the case, when he ordered a conditional discharge rather than a sentence, on the basis he does not re-offend in the next nine months.
Hundreds of supporters were outside the courthouse cheering “Jobstown Innocent, Labour guilty”, which intensified as word got out that the judge was satisfied the boy was guilty.
After the teenager was released, his lawyer Michael Finucane told reporters: “It is important to emphasise that this is a young man placed at the centre of a very high profile and stressful case that went on for a number of days. My client has asked me to say he is extremely relieved the proceedings have ended and the stress on him and his family, to some degree, has been lifted for the time being but he is disappointed by the outcome.”
He added that the defence team was “considering options but I can confirm that an appeal of some sort will be taken in due course”. The teen was also thankful of all the support he had received.
The teen’s father told reporters his son was not guilty and he blasted the verdict saying, “there is no justice in this country” and he added that there would be an appeal.
“We are not happy, he is not guilty of anything, he didn’t do anything,” he said. The terms meant the boy could be “victimised walking down the street” and it would stop him from “protesting for what he believes are his rights”.
Protesters condemning the prosecution waited outside the courthouse in Smithfield every day of the trial while messages of support online poured in from all round the world including people in Seattle, Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, Edinburgh and other locations.
A “Rally for Justice” is being held today at the Central Bank in solidarity with the teenager.
“Even for this corrupt 26 county state this is a new low,” Saoradh said in a statement. “This child was only fifteen at the time of the protest but that does not matter to those in power as this verdict is a message to those who dare to dissent against injustice that the state will come after you.”
Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy, who faces similar charges in connection with the same protest, said the guilty verdict was a threat to right to protest.
“Now, any protest that delays a person can be deemed ‘false imprisonment’”, he said.