Jobstown trial: First day of what is going to be a long, hot trial

Some criminal trials manage to attract huge public interest, but few have ever matched the opening day of the trial of the so-called Jobstown Seven.

Jobstown trial: First day of what is going to be a long, hot trial

The elements of a trial which are usually a draw on the public’s interest are not present here.

There is no murder, no spousal love torn asunder, no crime of passion to parse, no repellent detail that renders the trial compelling.

Even when such elements are present it can take a day or two for the public gallery to swell.

Yesterday, the room was packed before judge Melanie Greally arrived to take her position on the bench. There wasn’t elbow room not to mind standing room in Court 7 of the Criminal Courts of Justice building.

The seven men on trial include TD Paul Murphy, and two county councillors from his party, Mick Murphy (no relation) and Kieran Mahon.

They along with four others are charged with falsely imprisoning then Tánaiste Joan Burton and her assistant Karen O’Connell at Jobstown Tallaght on November 15, 2014. The occasion was a protest against water charges.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back out in public without being confronted with some aspect of water charges, just after the Oireachtas has appeared to deal with the matter, up it pops again, this time across the Liffey in the courts.

The trial is concerned with whether or not Ms Burton and her assistant were falsely imprisoned at the protest outside an education centre in Jobstown on the day in question.

That will be a matter for the jury in a trial that Judge Greally told the prospective jurors is estimated to endure for six weeks. The judge spoke to the potential jurors through a video link.

The judge informed them that she had been assured that that estimate may be shortened, but the jury, as they say, is out on that one.

As the seven defendants were officially arraigned the temperature in the room crept up, not due to the proceedings but to the body heat of a room that was packed to the rafters. The only thing to be grateful about is that it’s not taking place at the height of a long, hot summer.

Jury empanelment got under way just before 3.30pm, but thereafter the pace was picked up fairly rapido. Judge Greally told those who had been called that a number of conditions attached to whether or not they should serve.

She went through the names of the witnesses to be called, including dozens of gardaí from a range of different stations across Dublin. There was also mention of witnesses Joan Burton and her assistant Karen O’Connell, who would be called.

The judge mistakenly called the latter woman “Kate O’Connell”, which happens to be the name of a serving TD.

This was an understandable slip considering there was a TD among the defendants, another few in the public gallery and even a former TD wearing a lawyer’s gown, having presumably gone over to the dark side of the legal world from politics.

Many of those in the courtroom had made their way directly from an earlier gathering in Smithfield Square, called to mark the commencement of the trial.

A number of TDs from Solidarity, People Before Profit and Sinn Féin were in attendance, along with artist Robert Ballagh.

There was also support telegraphed from Spain in the form of MEP Lidia Senra. She was introduced to former TD Joe Higgins in Spanish, and the pair conversed in that language for a few minutes, the only recognisable word in their dialogue being “Solidarity”.

Either the European parliamentarian was expressing solidarity with her fellow socialists or perhaps she was congratulating Joe on his party’s new name.

There were banners aplenty on display, most bearing slogans or phrases that are better left unsaid ahead of a contentious trial.

One man stood on the fringes of the gathering. He was holding a large flag which on first glance bore a resemblance to the national emblem of Jamacia, but on closer inspection turned out to be the county colours of Carlow.

The moment of levity was a welcome departure on the first day of what is going to be a long, hot trial.

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