Former tánaiste Joan Burton has told a court she was frightened and did not think she had the alternative of being able to get out of a garda car surrounded by people shouting abuse during the Jobstown water protest.
She was giving evidence on day one of the trial of a Dublin youth, aged 17, accused of falsely imprisoning her and her adviser, Karen O’Connell, during the demonstration at the Fortunestown Rd in Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin, on November 15, 2014.
The teen was aged 15 at the time and is being tried before Judge John King at the Dublin Children’s Court. He denies the charges.
The prosecution alleges that the tánaiste and her entourage were trapped for about three hours after they had attended a graduation ceremony at the An Cosán education centre.
The former Labour leader and minister for social protection told prosecuting counsel Tony McGillicuddy that she arrived at about 11.30am for the ceremony.
She described the graduation ceremony as having a “happy atmosphere” and she was given a warm welcome.
Ms Burton said that she noticed some protesters when she arrived. A young male in a blue tracksuit was holding a phone close to her face trying to take a photo and saying “talk to us, Joan”, she said.
The defence said that she was referring to the youth, who was accompanied to the court by his mother and his legal team. The teenager cannot be named because he is a minor.
Ms Burton said that she went to a nearby church for the second part of the ceremony. She walked with her entourage as well as the graduates, academics, and others involved with An Cosán.
She alleged that she was hit twice with water balloons, adding that it hurt and her clothes were wet. She said the crowd was pushing and she felt it surge and she described them as “very wild”. She said that this was is when the hassle started.
Ms O’Connell gave her a jacket to wear for the remainder of the ceremony. After she made her speech at the church, she was advised by a garda that she would have to leave.
She said she made haste to a garda car. She sat in the back with Ms O’Connell and she said there was a lot of noise and offensive language. Ms O’Connell was upset and she put her arms around her, the court was told.
There was a large number of children present and she was concerned about them, Ms Burton said. She said some of the protesters were banging on the windows.
She also said the teenager was standing beside the car.
Ms Burton said there was a lot of vulgar abuse and she was called a “fucking c**t and stuff like that”.
One person behind the car had a megaphone and she said that, at this point, she wanted to be able to leave as early as possible.
She said she feared what would happen if they got the car door open.
Gardaí moved her to a second vehicle, a jeep. She said the officers were around her like a screen and the crowd was pushing. She said they were very aggressive and there was a lot of pushing.
Plastic bottles and eggs were being thrown she said.
She said that when she reached the Garda jeep she flung herself into the back seat. She felt “menaced” and added: “I worried what will happen if they manage to open the car doors.”
She said protesters continued banging on the roof and doors and shouting abuse.
She said she was very frightened and comforted Ms O’Connell.
“She was a little upset and, to be honest, I put my arm around her and said ‘we’ll be fine’,” she said.
When she was being moved to that car, she had worried that she would not be able to run because she lost her shoe and she felt she was losing her footing.
There were more protesters around and the jeep moved off slowly. After what seemed a long time, she was transferred to another garda vehicle which rushed her away, she said.
In cross-examination, Giollaoisa O Lideadha SC, defending, put it to Ms Burton that gardaí made an operational decision to progress the situation.
“Are you suggesting I had an alternative, of leaving the car? Because I don’t think I had,” she replied.
Ms Burton said she made a statement to gardaí but had no knowledge of what charges would be brought. She denied that she hoped the event would be damaging to others or how she would present it for political purposes.
Ms O’Connell told the court she had been crying and in a state of shock.
“I was very upset,” she said. “I was hyperventilating. I felt very unsafe. I felt very distressed.”
She also said that, during the walk from An Cosán to the church, she was struck on her back.
When they were being moved to the jeep she heard someone say “get the c**ts, there they go”. She stumbled and they were bundled into the jeep, she said.
She also said that, as the situation escalated, the number of protesters increased. A garda public order unit came in riot gear and an agreement was made that the protesters could slow march out in front of the jeep, the court was told.
Short video clips taken by Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell on their phones were shown in court. Ms O’Connell also said demonstrators shouted at them that they hoped she and the former tánaiste would die. She also alleged she saw a garda getting struck after an open can of beans was thrown at her.
The trial continues today.
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