Republicans and housing activists have condemned the extraordinary sentences handed down to three anti-eviction activists in relation to an eviction in Strokestown, County Roscommon, in 2018.
Martin O’Toole, Paul Beirne and PJ Sweeney (pictured, left to right) were found guilty by Judge Martina Baxter in June in relation to eviction clashes in which the McGann family was violently removed from their rural home.
A gang of mercenary former British army soldiers and suspected loyalist paramilitaries were blamed for the eviction. Operating on behalf of a predatory Belgian bank, KBC, and unlicensed, they initiated a confrontation which spiralled into a pitched battle over a week in December 2018.
Judge Martina Baxter fully believed the members of the eviction gang who gave evidence during the trial. She said the attack had been a “terrifying experience” and that they had experienced “degradation and humiliation.”
She imposed 15 years each on the three men for false imprisonment, noting that the law could have allowed her to impose a life sentence.
“There is no defence for such lawlessness,” she said.
There was a shocked and angry reaction from the supporters of the men, who were in court to witness the outcome.
There had been question marks over the fairness of the trial, with the defence counsel reportedly failing to call a single defence witness and refusing instructions to challenge state evidence.
The 1916 Societies said it “unreservedly” condemned what it said were “outrageously vindictive sentences.”
“The Free State has truly extracted its pound of flesh from these three men and their families, thus showing they serve their masters in the banks and vulture funds,” they said.
“We send our solidarity to Martin, PJ, Paul, and their families at this difficult time.”
Anti-eviction campaigners, Corruption Awareness Ireland, said the ‘security men’ involved were on video assaulting several individuals, including one vulnerable senior citizen.
“The verdict confirms what many have known for a long time: Justice in our legal system is subject to politics and has nothing to do with the proper ‘rule of law,’” they said.
“The matter is not finished; we must never rest while criminals administer our courts and Gardaí act as enforcers for private banks.”
The Revolutionary Housing League, which has engaged in high-profile sit-ins and anti-eviction protests in Dublin, also strongly condemned the sentences.
“The eviction in Strokestown, Roscommon, shocked the people of Ireland, with the Gardaí yet again facilitating a violent eviction carried out by paid thugs. Only when there was retaliation against those thugs did the state act, in the interests of the banks,” they said.
“This extremely severe sentence by the courts is clearly intended as a message that the state will not tolerate physical resistance to evictions and will continue to allow attacks on ordinary people by banks, landlords, and their mercenaries.
“The imprisonment of these three men is a national scandal that should be opposed by all. Instead of 15-year prison sentences, they should be applauded for their community service in standing up to KBC and their goons.”