TD denies inciting crowd after criticism of protest

Anti-austerity TD Paul Murphy has defended his key role during a demonstration in which Tánaiste Joan Burton was hit by a water balloon.

Mr Murphy denied he had incited the crowd, or that his actions were anti- democratic as Government ministers alleged.

Susan Philips, a staff member at the centre where Ms Burton was attending a graduation ceremony, took issue with claims by Mr Murphy and Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger that the protest was peaceful.

“I would not like to see one that was violent,” Ms Philips said, as she recounted having to form a human shield around Ms Burton.

An Cosán chairperson Bill Roche said he had been assaulted in the melee.

“We got out of the gates and this mob rushed us. They pushed, they shoved us. They spat at us.

“I had one guy stick his face into mine and he terrified me. He called my parentage into question.

“All he knew was I was in a robe. There were elderly women in their 60s who were pushed and shoved. I was assaulted.”

Mr Murphy insisted any acts of lawlessness occurred after the protest.

Independent senator and co-founder of An Cosán, Katherine Zappone, said there was a “menacing” nature to the demonstration.

“The blockading and banging of posters on the Tánaiste’s car, the jostling and spitting at those involved in the event goes beyond any legitimate form of protest.”

Mr Murphy, who denied leading the demonstration but said gardaí had asked him to intervene when Ms Burton’s car was blocked from leaving, said he condemned a bomb threat to the constituency office of Environment Minister Alan Kelly in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, but insisted the incident should not be connected to the protests against water charging.

Mr Murphy hit out at “conscious linking of those threats with a peaceful protest on Saturday”.

It is understood a woman rang Mr Kelly’s office, making repeated bomb threats using abusive language.

Mr Kelly said: “This was a very traumatic and upsetting experience for all staff and the matter has been referred to the gardaí. I condemn this deplorable behaviour.”

Labour’s Equalities Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who said he had been on the receiving end of “bullet protests,” insisted it was time for people to “step back”.

“What happened to Alan Kelly, what has happened in my office, what happened on Saturday is not democratic protest. It is mob rule.

“People are entitled to protest — but there is a line and it has been crossed.”

Ms Coppinger, meanwhile, insisted Saturday’s protest had been “exceptionally peaceful”.

“Joan Burton is not a victim, she is a member of the elite and the establishment of this country,” she told RTÉ.

Labour small business minister Ged Nash attacked “thuggish elements” in the protest.

And Health Minister Leo Varadkar hit out at “Marxist-Leninists” who used water protests for their own ends.

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