A garda at the trial of seven men charged with falsely imprisoning TD Joan Burton and her aide said she genuinely felt she was going to be “crushed” by a crowd of water protestors in Tallaght two-and-a-half years ago.
Garda Marion Power was giving evidence at the trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and six other men, all of whom deny the offences alleged to have taken place in Jobstown on November 15, 2014.
Mr Murphy (aged 34), together with South Dublin Councillors Kieran Mahon (aged 39) and Michael Murphy (aged 53) and four other men, are charged with falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without their consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght.
Gda Power told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that she had her arm around Ms Bruton to shield her from the crowd as the former Tánaiste and her assistant Karen O’Connell were escorted through a “human cordon” of gardaí from an unmarked garda car to a jeep.
“I heard a man say, ‘Let’s just petrol bomb them all out of here,’” Gda Power told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting.
“A large group of people were shouting abuse, banging on the car, pushing bars in on the car.”
“The protestors were pushing in on top of us, spitting on us. I felt like I was being crushed. Joan said she’d lost her shoe; I told her we had to keep moving to maintain our safety, I genuinely thought we were going to be crushed,” said Gda Power.
Gda Power said she was standing at the front passenger side of the jeep where there were two men “continuously forcing themselves in on top of me,” one of whom kept rubbing his body against her and punching the window of the jeep until it cracked.
Gda Power said there was “constant abuse and horrendous language the whole time”.
She accepted that the man who broke the jeep windscreen was not one of the accused, and said this man continuously put his foot behind the wheel of the jeep and alleged that his foot had been run over and shouted for an ambulance.
Under cross-examination, Gda Power did not accept that the man’s foot had indeed been injured and was subsequently placed in a cast.
“If he was injured, it didn’t happen on that date. I know exactly the character of that man, I had to deal with him,” she said.
Superintendent Daniel Flavin told the court that he decided in the interests of safety to transfer the Tánaiste and Ms O’Connell from an unmarked garda car to a jeep.
“It was 1:30, a winter’s evening. I felt I was going to have darkness about half five, I didn’t want a siege situation,” he said, describing a “very hostile, tense environment” with a lot of pushing of gardaí and abusive comments.
Superintendent Flavin said he recognised Deputy Paul Murphy on the loudhailer addressing the crowd and heard him saying, “Will we let her go, or will we keep her here all night?”
The superintendent said he told Mr Murphy that whatever his political motives were, this had gone on long enough and that there were two women trapped in the car who were entitled to go.
“Mr Murphy said he had no control over the protesters,” said Superintendent Flavin.
He said matters became more difficult after the TD asked the crowd would they “keep her there all night” because the response was “in effect, to keep her here”.
Superintendent Flavin also pointed out that not all of the protesters were involved in blocking the garda car or the jeep and that some members of the public in fact tried to help gardaí to move people who were sitting down.
He said some protesters held up placards so that coins that were being thrown would not hit gardaí.
Superintendent Flavin told the court that Mr Murphy said: “‘If you remove the Public Order Unit, I’ll allow the jeep to move,’ or words to that effect,” so he pulled the Public Order Unit back and the jeep duly started to make progress along the road.
Paul Murphy of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon of Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; Michael Murphy of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, Dublin; Frank Donaghy (aged 71) of Alpine Rise, Tallaght; Ken Purcell (aged 50) of Kiltalown Green; Michael Banks (aged 46) of Brookview Green, Tallaght and Scott Masterson (aged 34) of Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght have all denied the charges.
The trial continues before Judge Melanie Greally and a jury of seven men and five women.
Earlier today, a sergeant told the court that there was “no manual” for ordinary members of the force who trained in the Garda Public Order Unit.
Sergeant Brian Boland, who was a member of the Public Order Unit who attended the Jobstown protest, said he had never read a manual but that he had seen instructors referring to one at training courses.
“All our training is operational and tactical, it’s not class-room based, it’s out with the gear on, in derelict buildings, on the ground…using simulated exercises and demonstrations,” he told defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC.
Sergeant Boland said there was an overarching document about the use of force, and that the deployment of the Public Order Unit was always a “last resort” when uniformed members were no longer able to “police by consent”.
He said on that day it was “futile” to try and remove the protestors because “of the sheer volume of people; there were so many of them and not enough gardaí. For every one we got off the road, three or four more sat down. It takes two of us to get one of them off the road” ,he said.
“The last thing we want to have to do is engage in force, but that’s what we’re there for at the same time, we can’t be a blunt instrument,” he said, but added that the majority of the time, it’s sufficient for the Public Order Unit to just arrive. “It’s amazing the power of that, the effect,” said.
Sergeant Boland said it was “perfectly lawful” for gardaí to press on people’s pressure points when they were interlocking arms to make them release their grip, saying, “some pain might be necessary,” to get a desired lawful outcome.