The 26 County political establishment suffered a devastating blow on Thursday when a jury rejected an attempt to jail six political activists on accusations that they had ‘kidnapped’ former Taoiseach Joan Burton and her secretary.
Solidarity’s Paul Murphy (pictured, centre) and five others were found not guilty of restricting the personal liberty of ex-tanaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton and her then assistant Karen O’Connell during a peaceful protest in Jobstown, Dublin three years ago. Another activist had been freed by the court after it found his detention to have been illegal.
Mr Murphy, two other county councillors from the Solidarity party and three others, including a republican activist, all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The group said outside the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin they felt vindicated and were walking away as “protesters, not kidnappers”.
“This was a politically driven investigation vindictively designed to punish those who fought against water charges and wounded the political vanity of Joan Burton,” they said.
“It was an attempt to criminalise the largest movement of people power in decades, by presenting sit-down protests as false imprisonment.”
Mr Murphy was arrested at dawn at his home three months after the incident, when dozens were detained. He said his trial was an attempt to criminalise popular protest. The former MEP, now a serving TD in Ireland’s Dail parliament said no other prosecutions should be brought over the Jobstown protest and that one guilty verdict should be overturned.
In the non-jury Children’s Court in Dublin last year, a schoolboy was found guilty of the false imprisonment of Ms Burton during the protest. He was discharged conditionally on good behaviour for nine months.
A rally is planned for Dublin city centre in support of others facing charges this Saturday.
While the mainstream media has been rallying in support of the humiliated Joan Burton and the Gardai, some of whom could now face investigation for perjury, Mr Murphy said he wanted a public inquiry into why the case was ever brought to trial.
The Dublin South West TD said he did not know who had initiated the case but believed there was a fabricated and co-ordinated campaign by gardai.
Mr Murphy said: “I personally think the drive came from within the gardai knowing it was in line with the views of the political establishment. Whether it was communicated both ways it is not clear.”
BIAS AND DEMONISATION
At the centre of this campaign was a bias by the Garda against socialists and water protestors, he said.
Mr Murphy condemned the mainstream media, which he said had played a significant role in the demonisation of the Jobstown protesters, naming state-run RTE television, The Irish Times and the Irish Independent in particular.
“It does that for a number of reasons. It can be because some journalists move in close circles to those in the political establishment and a common world outlook can develop. It may not be a conscious thing, but it then influences.”
He called for a left-wing movement similar to that of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. “It shows if they come after us in a very substantial way, we are able to win.”
Solidarity pointed to a series of irregularities in how the case was taken and evidence brought.
In a statement, the party said: “The Jobstown trial was an attempt by the establishment to instil fear into the minds of working class people. It was a warning that if you protest and oppose their anti-working class policies you could end up in jail.
“The jury’s decision to reject a case built on Garda evidence is a major new addition to the mounting litany of Garda scandals,” it added.
Sinn Fein’s justice spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien also called for an inquiry, claiming the charges should never have been brought forward in the first place.
He argued: “While we obviously recognise the independence of the courts, the DPP, and the policing structures of the state, we also recognise that there is now huge public outrage following the vindication of the Jobstown protest.
“We believe there is a need for an inquiry that would examine how this trial came about and why these charges were brought in the first instance.”
Eirigi’s Scott Masterson (pictured, right), one of those acquitted, also backed calls for a public inquiry and calls for the state to drop all the remaining Jobstown-related charges.
“The millions of Euro that have already been spent on the Jobstown investigation and trial would have been far better spend on the provision of public housing, healthcare and education. To spend further monies on another Jobstown trial would be a further inexcusable abuse of position and public monies,” he said.