A Garda witness has told the trial of South Dublin councillor Michael Murphy for allegedly falsely imprisoning the former Tánaiste Joan Burton that the defendant was more concerned about bad publicity than anyone's safety.
Garda Fionnuala Whelan disagreed with a defence suggestion that Mr Murphy had used his influence to try to calm down aggression and volatility during the water charges protest in November 2014.
Mr Murphy (53), along with Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and five other men are on trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court charged with false imprisonment of Ms Burton and her assistant.
Defence counsel for Councillor Michael Murphy said as a county councillor he would have had some clout or influence. He said Garda Whelan had already given evidence that those present had appeared to follow his lead and obey his directions when he asked them to stop throwing missiles.
Senior Counsel Raymond Comyn said Mr Murphy was very concerned when people became too volatile, aggressive or abusive and tried to stop them.
Garda Whelan replied that he did so "because he was concerned about negative publicity.” She said “he did not show concern for anyone's safety."
Mr Comyn put it to the witness that Michael Murphy was trying to calm down and tone down the aggression. Garda Whelan said "what he said was they did not want negative publicity."
She said she believed the councillor had added to the hostility by taunting the Tánaiste and “riling up” the crowd.
“He could have done a lot more if he really wanted to help matters. I feel he was trying to reduce negative publicity,” she said.
The jury was shown video footage in which Mr Murphy can be heard telling protestors he was suggesting they let Ms Burton go after half an hour and that "there is potential for argy bargy and that is not what we came for."
Paul Murphy (34) of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon (39) of Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; Michael Murphy of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, Dublin; Frank Donaghy (71) of Alpine Rise, Tallaght; Ken Purcell (50) of Kiltalown Green; Michael Banks (46) of Brookview Green, Tallaght and Scott Masterson (34) of Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght have pleaded not (NOT) guilty to falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without their consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght on November 15, 2014.
Garda Whelan also told the court that she believed councillor Michael Murphy's comment about giving Joan Burton sanctuary in a church was a threat to her safety rather than a suggestion to Gardaí.
The jury was shown video footage during which Mr Murphy, can be heard to say: "bring her back to the church if you want, you can give her sanctuary in the church if that's what she wants. Take her out of the car and put her back in the church. Give her sanctuary in the church it's the only place she'll be safe"
Garda Whelan said "it was my understanding by saying it's the only place she will be safe, meant she would not be safe outside the church."
Mr Comyn asked Garda Whelan how she could call that a taunt or a threat when he was making a suggestion to Gardaí.
Garda Whelan said she did not believe it was a suggestion to Gardaí. " He was taunting the Tánaiste and playing to the crowd," she said.
She agreed she had not viewed video footage of exactly what Michael Murphy had said before she made her statement.
Under cross-examination from Michael O'Higgins SC, for Ken Purcell, she accepted that her statement included 17 references to CCTV images. She said these were for the purpose of identifying on CCTV who she was talking about in her statement and said she made her statement from her recollection of events.
She denied a suggestion that her statement was heavily influenced by video footage.
Mr O Higgins put it to her that Gardaí had a unique role as investigators and were obliged to seek out all relevant material whether it pointed to someone's guilt or innocence. Garda Whelan said she was aware of that.
She also agreed with Mr O Higgins that if a complex matter has to be investigated, all aspects have to be investigated for that investigation to be fair.
Detective Garda Richard Hansen told the jury that he was at the scene on the day and had to maintain a safe distance from the crowd because he was carrying a firearm and had to be conscious that it could be taken from him in a crowd.
He described seeing Solidarity TD Paul Murphy speaking on a megaphone, chanting and beckoning people forward. He also saw him stand and sit in front of the vehicle carrying the Tánaiste
During cross examination he accepted he had forgotten to mention in his direct evidence that Paul Murphy had proposed a slow march to the N81. Sean Guerin SC, defending Paul Murphy, asked how could he forget such an important piece of information, that Mr Murphy was proposing a slow march and not the false imprisonment of Ms Burton.
Garda Hansen also said the crowd had surged forward at one point and it was like a "Hillsborough type" situation. He said Paul Murphy may not have created the surge on his own but he did not help the situation by sitting in front of the jeep.
He said "The Gardaí have a duty to protect all people, this was our deputy prime minster and she was being protected by us."
Mr Guerin said it took nearly 30 years for police to accept responsibility for Hillsborough it may be some time before Gardaí accept responsibility for this.
Mr Guerin said Gardaí had blocked the gate with the jeep which had caused the situation as people tried to get through the confined space. His cross examination continues tomorrow.