Contempt proceedings against water protesters adjourned by High Court

Contempt proceedings against people over protests about the installation of water meters have been adjourned to November 5 by the High Court.

Meter installation contractor GMC Sierra Ltd had sought injunctions preventing staff from being assaulted, intimidated, and prevented from installing meters. It previously obtained injunctions against nine people, and yesterday sought to bring attachment and committal to prison proceedings against another group of nine, arising out of alleged contempt for breaching the injunction.

GMC Sierra said the injunction notices had been posted on its workers’ vans and on barriers at work sites, but protests had continued.

Scenes had become chaotic and there was a danger someone would get seriously hurt, it was claimed.

The company yesterday also asked the court to amend the previous October 2 order, which restrained interference with the meter installation, so that protesters could not come within 20m of the installation works.

The High Court was packed with anti-water charge protesters who, when counsel for GMC Sierra said he was applying for a 20m exclusion area at work sites, jeered loudly.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said if such behaviour was repeated, he would simply clear the court.

Jim O’Callaghan SC, for GMC Sierra, opposed an adjournment application by solicitor Cahir O’Higgins, for eight of the nine defendants, who said time was needed to instruct counsel and swear affidavits in response to those from the company.

Mr O’Higgins said his clients dissociated themselves from the earlier jeering and denied any breach of court orders.

They were opposing the exclusion zone because they believed it would be a disproportionate interference with their constitutional right to free expression of their opposition to “an unjust and unfair levy or tax”.

Mr O’Higgins said he had seen video footage which GMC Sierra intended to rely on, and it was difficult to reconcile what was in the footage as being intimidation of workers.

What was being sought in the 20m exclusion zone application was a situation where his clients were being prevented from entering their own premises.

Mr Justice Gilligan suggested that as an adjournment was being sought, that the parties could discuss whether undertakings could be given by the defendants pending a hearing.

Mr O’Higgins said his clients were prepared to undertake to continue to engage in lawful conduct but “for very specific reasons feel that in giving an undertaking it amounts to tacit acceptance they had somehow breached it [the court order]”.

“I take the view it is simply a play on words and I do not accept the submission on behalf of Mr O’Higgins,” said Mr Justice Gilligan.

An application for free legal aid for the defendants will be dealt with at the end of the case, he said.

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