Water protest trials set for after election

The trials against Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy and two party councillors, with Tánaiste Joan Burton as star witness, will not take place before the next election, the Irish Examiner has established.

The Courts Service confirmed that the current waiting time for trials to be heard in Dublin Circuit Court after charges have been laid was between nine and 10 months.

Legal sources said that it will probably be as late as July before any of the trials start — well after the deadline for the next election, which is the end of March.

It comes as Mr Murphy yesterday lodged complaints with the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Commissioner and the Garda Ombudsman, over the “leaking” of information to the media regarding the decision to charge more than 20 people involved in the water charge protest at Jobstown, Tallaght, west Dublin, last November.

Separately, the Garda Síochána said it had launched an investigation into a “potential leak” yesterday morning.

During the November 15 protest, Ms Burton was also struck in the face by a water bomb and trapped by protesters in her car, along with her adviser Karen O’Connell, for over two hours.

The Irish Examiner established on Wednesday that the DPP had issued instructions that more than 20 people — thought to be up to 25 people — be charged on indictment, in the higher courts. Mr Murphy, TD for Dublin South West, is to be charged with false imprisonment, which can attract a maximum of a life sentence.

It is not yet clear if Socialist Party councillors for Tallaght, Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon, face false imprisonment charges, or lesser charges, such as violent disorder.

A large number of those being charged face counts of violent disorder or criminal damage. Both offences can attract sentences of up to 10 years on conviction on indictment. Trials are heard before a jury.

The Courts Service said the current waiting time for trials in Dublin Circuit Court is nine to 10 months.

However, legal sources explained that the charges first have to be brought — expected to happen in the coming weeks — initially before the district court. If the judge accepts DPP directions, the charges will be referred to the circuit court.

“If they are sent, and they get a mention in October in the circuit, it would be probably July before it was heard,” said one legal source.

While the cases are expected to form part of the election campaign, the trial dates are likely to be welcomed by government TDs, including Ms Burton.

Meanwhile, Mr Murphy said he submitted letters of complaint to the Office of the DPP, the Garda Commissioner and the Garda Ombudsman in relation to the “leaking” of information regarding the charges.

“It is quite an incredible situation whereby the media is advised of charges in advance of those due to be charged. The consequence of this leak is to spread fear amongst protesters that they will be charged.”

He said the source of the leak could only be within the DPP or the gardaí.

“I have therefore written to the appropriate authorities in both seeking to establish what investigations will be carried out to determine the source of the leak.”

Earlier on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Murphy appeared to question the independence of the DPP. Asked whether he accepted the role of the DPP was to be impartial, he said: “I accept that’s the role of the DPP and that’s the way she is supposed to conduct her job. I don’t know how it was conducted in this particular case.”

Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins condemned the comments and said he trusted the gardaí and the DPP to “objectively make decisions” based on evidence.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said she did not agree with claims by Mr Murphy that the charges represented “an attack on the right to protest”.

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