A garda inspector has told a trial it was like a “rugby maul” when he tried to escort Joan Burton through an angry crowd at the Jobstown water protest.
A 17-year-old boy denies falsely imprisoning the then tánaiste and her political advisor, Karen O’Connell, during the water charges protest at Fortunestown Rd, Jobstown, in Tallaght, Dublin, on November 15, 2014. He was aged 15 at the time and cannot be named because he is still a minor.
Ms Burton had been attending a graduation event at 11.30am at An Cosán adult education centre.
It is alleged that trouble broke out and she and her entourage were trapped in cars surrounded by protesters for about three hours.
Tony McGillicuddy has said the prosecution case is that Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell were detained by the actions of the teenage defendant, in conjunction with the actions of others.
The trial resumed before Judge John King at the Dublin Children’s Court yesterday.
Detective Inspector Derek Maguire told the court he was with Ms Burton and other gardaí as they tried to force their way from An Cosán to the nearby St Thomas’s Church for the second part of the graduation ceremony.
He said there were 10 to 15 protesters but the crowd got bigger.
“I was standing to the right of the tánaiste and her progress was impeded and then she got hit with some kind of object in the head,” he said. “It was thrown from behind and hit her on the back right of her head.”
He said Ms Burton was hit with a water balloon and called a traitor.
“The number of protesters appeared to increase and with great difficulty we got to the gate of St Thomas’s Church. At that point some of the protesters stopped at the gates and we had freer movement,” he said.
He said he noticed outside the church the number of people gathering was increasing and “seemed to be getting larger and larger”. He contacted a superior to request extra gardaí.
He told Ms O’Connell it would be better to leave at this point because the number of protesters was “too big at this point”.
More gardaí came and parked an unmarked Garda car outside the church; they intended to use it to take the two women away.
Det Insp Maguire said the protesters then noticed the unmarked car.
He said it was then decided to instead use another unmarked garda car which he knew was at the side of the church and out of view.
At 12.30pm, he left the church with Ms O’Connell, Ms Burton, and two gardaí.
He told the court the car was parked facing the church and they tried to reverse out but protesters surrounded it very quickly and they were unable to get out. He said he created a cordon of gardaí around the car to protect the people inside.
He said an effort was made to move the protesters but they dropped to the ground and sat down. It was impossible to move the car without causing injuries to someone, he said.
“We tried to move them and create a barrier between us and them to reverse the car out, it was impossible given the numbers,” he said.
The inspector said he tried to talk to one protester who he thought was orchestrating the demonstration but the man refused to converse with him. He said he directed them under the Public Order Act to desist but “none of them would comply with that direction at all”.
He said the defendant had a loudhailer and was shouting at the crowd to block the car. Another man was doing that at the back of the car.
He said he distinctly recalled the teenager had a blue hooded top and grey tracksuit bottoms. He described the crowd as very aggressive and said there was lots of “vitriol”. He said abuse was shouted and there was a “very uneasy feeling, a lot of tension in the air”.
He said a lot of objects were being thrown and gardaí were struck with eggs.
Det Insp Maguire said a lot of the protesters had mobile phones, including the defendant, who was using one to film the events and “appeared to be pointing the phone quite close to our faces”. He said this went on for over an hour.
He said his colleagues formed a cordon around the car until assistance from other garda units as well as the Air Support Unit arrived. It was decided that it was a better option to try to move the Labour TD to a garda 4x4 which was parked nearby.
Gardaí formed two lines and moved Ms Burton and her advisor from the car towards the vehicle. It was a distance of 30 yards and the crowd converged on them, the inspector said.
“It was like a rugby maul,” he told the court. He said Ms Burton’s shoe came off and there was “pure aggression”.
He told the court the 4x4 was then surrounded by protesters and its front windscreen was smashed by one of them.
A Garda public order unit arrived at 2.30pm. Det Insp Maguire said that, 15 minutes later, this unit tried to move them from the side of the jeep. He said this seemed to have made them more aggressive and resistant and it seemed more protesters were arriving.
One of the protesters said that if the public order unit were removed, they would slow march. The public order unit moved to the side of the road but remained in close proximity and the 4x4 carrying Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell started moving again. It took 45 minutes to get to the N81 which was 100 yards away.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved