Protester’s trial for obstructing workers is test case, court hears

A Dublin protester’s trial for obstructing Irish Water is a test case and one of the first of its kind, a court heard.

Unemployed Stephen Bennett, aged 42, of Pearse Green, Sallynoggin, appeared at Dublin District Court charged under the Water Service Act 2007, for obstructing the company exercising its powers, on October 21 last, at Villa Park Gardens, Cabra, Dublin 7.

Judge Anthony Halpin heard directions from the DPP need to be obtained to determine if the activist’s case should be dealt with at district court level or go forward for trial on indictment to the circuit court.

The maximum penalty in the district court is a €5,000 fine and a possible jail term of up to three months whereas the circuit court has wider sentencing powers of a fine not exceeding €15m or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both.

Defence solicitor Stephen O’Mahony said he was seeking a court order to preserve any possible video footage contained on cameras belonging to Irish Water workers. Judge Halpin agreed to the request.

The defence solicitor then said it was a test case which raised a lot of constitutional arguments, and Mr O’Mahony asked for legal aid for a barrister to be briefed.

“The offence is a bit more complicated than meets the eye,” said Mr O’Mahony, who added that he believed the case was among the first prosecutions under the legislation. “If you forgive the pun, the floodgates may open down the line.”

Judge Halpin said if there were constitutional issues these could be ventilated in the district court as well as in another court.

He said the complexity of the case may necessitate engagement of counsel and he agreed to Mr O’Mahony’s legal aid request.

Mr Bennett was remanded on bail until January 21.

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