Two water charge protestors denied they had committed any offences during a protest against the installation of Irish Water meters at a housing estate in Cork last August, but they were both convicted and fined.
Brian Gould, aged 65, of 14 Barry’s Place, Cathedral Road, Gurranabraher, Cork, was fined €1,000 on each of two charges of impeding or obstructing Irish Water staff or their representatives from carrying out their work, contrary to section 12 of the Water Services Act of 2007.
Judge Olann Kelleher imposed fines totalling €2,000 in Gould’s case after noting he had previous convictions arising out of other actions during protests.
Barbara Flood, 41, from Parknamore, Ballincollig, Co Cork, also denied committing any offence during the protest. Judge Kelleher convicted her of committing a similar offence and fined her €250 on the basis she had no previous convictions.
Neither defendant lived in the area where the offences were committed, namely at estates at Ard Cashell, Watergrasshill, in August.
During his evidence, Mr Gould said: “I don’t like the distinction made between residents and protesters; we were there as a community, whether we live in the community or not.”
Inspector Adrian Gamble said the evidence from Irish Water workers and gardaí present was that staff had been intimidated. Mr Gould denied this and said: “People were joking and laughing, there was no one being intimidated. If anyone was being intimidated, it was the residents by the presence of gardaí.”
Mr Gould also rejected the specific allegation he kicked a screwdriver out of a workman’s hand when he was about to carry out work.
On another occasion, where it was alleged he grabbed a three-foot steel T-bar from someone’s hand, he said he took a bar that passed near his eye and handed it to Garda sergeant Edward Geary at the moment the officer was taking it from him.
As for getting in the way of workers by standing over the areas where they were working, he said: “I was entitled to stand there. I don’t think I should be arrested for standing on a public highway.”
Ms Flood said residents were very worried on the morning, because of what she described as the huge number of gardaí present and she said they felt threatened by what was happening.
Asked by her barrister Sian Langley if she believed Irish Water workers would have felt threatened, she said she thought they would not have felt welcome there.
Cross-examined by Insp Gamble on what gave her the authority to act for residents, Ms Flood said: “I felt I had the authority to go there and help my friends and support them.”
Judge Kelleher noted that Ms Flood still believed she had the right to obstruct Irish Water workers.
Alan Morrissey, Irish Water’s south-west regional manager, said it was extremely intimidating for staff to do their work with 20 people leaning over them and calling them names.
“It is very intimidating and very unpleasant,” he said.
Cross-examining Eoin Long, who was working for an Irish Water contractor at that time, Ms Langley BL suggested there was plenty of banter and cups of tea between workers and protesters and that it was not intimidating for them. Mr Long said in that regard: “Survival mechanisms is the way I would describe it.”
The two defendants who were convicted of obstructing or impeding workers — Ms Flood on August 17, 2015, and Mr Gould on August 17 and 18, 2015 — have the option of appealing to the circuit court. Mr Gould’s previous convictions for similar behaviour are pending appeal.
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