By Sonya McLean
A garda has told a jury that she feared for her safety and the safety of the then-Tánaiste Joan Burton and her aide as she escorted the women through a crowd at an anti-water charges protest in 2014.
Garda Fionnuala Whelan was giving evidence in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on day 19 of the trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and six other men, all of whom deny falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her aide Karen O'Connell during a water charges protest in Jobstown in November 2014.
She told Tony McGillicuddy BL, prosecuting that the atmosphere on the day was “very hostile and extremely volatile”.
She said she was there from the time the Tánaiste moved from the graduation ceremony in An Cosán adult education centre to a nearby church and was later present when the unmarked patrol car and subsequently a garda jeep, which Ms Burton and Karen O'Connell were in, was surrounded by protestors.
Gda Whelan said when the protestors surrounded the unmarked garda car, they were banging on the bonnet and shouting abuse at Ms Burton. She said she tried to remove a number of people who were behind the car, preventing it from reversing.
She identified the defendants Paul Murphy, Scott Masterson, Frank Donaghy and Kieran Mahon as being among the group who were sitting down.
She tried to move Mr Murphy but she said she was obstructed by others.
“Mr Murphy resisted my attempt to remove him and he was also held down by others by his arms and legs. They pushed me away from him,” Gda Whelan said.
Sean Guerin SC, defending Paul Murphy, put it to the witness that after the protesters surround the car the situation became stable and that this stability was upset when she went to “manhandle” his client.
Gda Whelan said she had not manhandled the TD and also rejected the description that the situation was stable. She again said it was extremely volatile and that she was fearing for her safety.
Mr Guerin showed the jury YouTube footage showing the witness attempting to physically pull the TD up off the road. Unidentified voices on the footage said: “That's a TD you are mishandling. This was a peaceful protest until you started dragging people out of it”.
Asked by Mr Guerin what she had done about the fact that the TD's shirt was pulled off him during the struggle she said she didn't do anything because her priority was her safety and the safety of the two alleged victims.
She said the defendant's safety was not in jeopardy at that time and the stripping of his shirt “was certainly not the worst thing that happened that day”.
She told Mr Guerin that it didn't stand out for her. She said that what stood out for her from the day's events was being pushed and pulled and kicked and verbally abused.
Paul Murphy (34) of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon 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.
The trial continues before Judge Melanie Greally and a jury.
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The witness told Mr McGillicuddy that at one point her garda cap was taken from her head. She tried to grab it back off a man but he pulled it from her grip and she almost fell on some protestors. She said the man then threw the garda cap on the ground and stamped on it.
Gda Whelan said there were a number of children present at the time and told the jury that they were placed in front of protestors to obstruct gardaí. She described one woman, who was there with two children aged about five and six years old, “repeatedly trying to place the young girl on top of the protestors”.
She said the defendant Michael Murphy “was jeering the Tánaiste and riling up the crowd”. She heard him say “that's the first hour gone and only four more to go”, before he said they would beat Mary Lou McDonald's record.
Gda Whelan said she also heard Michael Murphy saying a number of times that the Tánaiste should take sanctuary in the church and “it would be the only place where she would be safe”.
She said Michael Murphy appeared to be in control of events. “When it became abusive he advised them to stop and said they didn't want any negative publicity. When he issued a request it was followed.”
The Tánaiste and Ms O'Connell were then moved to a garda jeep. “We formed a chain along their path. The protestors were extremely aggressive.
“I was being pulled and dragged and shoved all over the place,” Gda Whelan said before she added the protestors then gathered around the jeep.
“The atmosphere was very hostile. They were abusive and aggressive and it was completely out of control.” She said she was pinned up against the front of the jeep at one point and was unable to move.
She saw one man assaulting a garda and assisted her colleagues in restraining him. She said they were pelted with branches, coins, bottles and placards and eggs hit her on her temple and the back of her head.
Gda Whelan said the Garda public order unit was deployed and she heard Paul Murphy on a loud speaker suggest to the protestors that if the unit was withdrawn they would “let her go”. She heard someone shout back “keep the bitch here” and said Mr Murphy was met with both support and opposition.
She said an agreement was reached that they would slow march the jeep down the Fortunestown Road to where it met the N81 but said at various points some protestors had to be physically moved.
She described Michael Murphy as making “feeble attempts” to move the crowd but said it didn't seem to have an affect.
Gda Whelan told the jury that when she first arrived at An Cosán, a number of protestors had gathered. She described them as shouting “tell her not to come out”, “traitor” and asking why the Tánaiste had been invited.
She said a woman came out to try and reason with the protestors but they continued to shout and chant.
The graduates then began to emerge along with Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell and the protestors continued to shout, jeer and follow them.
She described one male as shoving a phone in Ms Burton's face and recording them while she could hear people shouting “bitch, cunt, traitor and other verbal abuse”.
“A woman screamed abuse in my face asking why I was protecting that bitch. She said she had to pay for water that she couldn't drink and I should be ashamed of myself and my family should be ashamed of me. She asked me who I was going to turn to when my wages were cut,” Gda Whelan said.
She said while making their way to the church an egg and a water balloon were thrown at Ms Burton's face but she didn't see who had thrown it.
The Tánaiste went into the church and Gda Whelan remained outside. She described a man in a blue hoodie running to an entrance at the church, referring to Ms Burton and saying he was going “to block her escape”.
She said the number of protestors began to increase and soon after she noticed that many of them had ran around to the other side of the church. She followed and discovered the Tánaiste and Ms O'Connell were in an unmarked patrol car.