A Dublin city councillor showed no remorse today when she was found guilty of assaulting former Health Minister Mary Harney who was splattered with red paint at a hospital last November.
Harney had paint thrown at her, covering parts of her clothes, neck, chest and hands, during a sod-turning ceremony for a new primary care and mental health unit at Cherry Orchard Hospital in west Dublin, on November 1 last.
As the nation went to the polls Harney, who did not seek re-election, was called by the State to give evidence against Dublin City Councillor Louise Minihan.
The 29-year-old councillor with an address at Knock Riada, Chapelizod, in Dublin, who is a member of the socialist republican Eirigí party, had pleaded not guilty to assaulting the former health minister and criminal damage to her clothing, which were worth €600 to €800.
Judge Ann Watkin heard at the Dublin District Court that Minihan accepted the facts of the case but claimed she had been engaging in a “political protest.”
After being found guilty, the councillor, a mother of one, who earns €17,500 a year, refused to do community service or to make a donation to a charity nominated by Mary Harney, because she wanted to “stand over her actions.”
Judge Watkin said Minihan had “no excuse” and that the Eirigí councillor had “wasted” tax payers' money through legal aid fees and court time.
For the criminal damage offence, the judge imposed a two-month term which she suspended on condition the defendant keeps the peace for the next 12 months. In relation to the assault, Judge Watkin fined Minihan €1,500 which must be paid within a year or she will face a seven day jail term in default.
“People are entitled to protest but are not entitled to do that,” the judge said.
Councillor Minihan, wearing a green coat and black trousers and boots, had arrived at court where several supporters stood outside the building holding placards with anti-government slogans.
Dressed in dark blue suit, Harney, the chief prosecution witness, took the stand and said she had attended the ceremony where local councillor Minihan introduced herself. “She said she would like to have a word with me later, I said certainly,” Harney told the court.
As she got on with ceremony she felt what she first thought was water but “when I looked up it was a red substance I subsequently discovered was paint.”
Harney turned and saw Minihan holding “some class of a bottle” and heard her say “you have blood on your hands.”
The paint was on her shoulders and neck and “on my woollen coat and dress underneath, and my boots were damaged.” She continued with the ceremony and afterwards returned to her home to change before her next event.
“In the case of dress and coat it was not possible for dry cleaners to remove the paint,” she said adding that Minihan caused €600 to €800 worth of damages to her clothes.
She said she would not accept compensation from Minihan, who was sitting in the dock a few feet away, but would prefer a donation to charity.
In cross-examination, defence solicitor Kieran Conway put it to her that his client's motive was to protest and her actions were not personal. Harney replied: “I do not think it is an acceptable form of protest in a democracy.”
She left the courtroom after she finished giving evidence.
Garda Sergeant Simon Murphy saw the accused throw paint from a plastic sports bottle at the former health minister. “It was like a squeezing throwing effect towards the minister,” he said.
Garda Gemma Casserly tendered the bottle in to court as evidence and also told the judge she witnessed the incident. She said “on the left side of the Minister's face I could see blood, or a red substance.” She denied when questioned by the defence solicitor that she was “glossing her evidence.”
Garda Casserly could not recall Minihan admitting “it was me” immediately after the incident.
Witness Concepta De Brun said before the attack she heard Minihan say “I will have that word now” and then twist the top of the bottle. Afterwards Minihan shouted “people are dying on your watch, you are responsible for destroying people's families,” she said.
The last witness Jim Curran also told the court that Minihan threw a red substance at Harney.
Minihan, who has no previous criminal convictions, opted not to go into evidence and was found guilty.
The judge noted that Minihan had not accused anyone of lying during the trial and that this was her first offence. She asked if Minihan would make a donation to a charity nominated by the former Minister. “No I would like it to go to Cherry Orchard Hospital,” Minihan said.
Mr Conway told the court that his client would not do community service and wanted to “stand over her actions.”
In sentencing Minihan, Judge Watkin said she had shown “no remorse” and had engaged in a “criminal act” for which there was no excuse.
Minihan was elected to the city council to represent Dublin's South Central area in 2007 when she was a member of Sinn Féin. However, she later left Sinn Féin and is now a member of the Eirigí party.
Before the incident, protesters had been locked outside the gates of the site when Ms Harney arrived. A peaceful picket had been staged by the Save Cherry Orchard Hospital Campaign, a respite care and full-time beds unit for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, which recently lost a 22-bed ward.
Speaking following the hearing, Councillor Minihan told reporters “I was well within my rights to do what I done.”
She vowed to continue protesting about the state of the health service and called the case a “political show trial” which she claimed “Mary Harney used as a photo opportunity to make herself look good.”
“I believe this case should not have come before the courts in the first place, it was a legitimate form of protest against the Minister and Government which has overseen the destruction of our health service.
“And I believe I was well within my rights to do what I done,” she said.
She claimed her actions were not violent. “It was diluted red paint that I used, it was more symbolic of the blood that she has on her hands for the decisions she made as health minister.”
Speaking outside the court Minihan also said “ I do not feel I have done anything wrong.”
She said she did not want to pay a donation to a charity picked by Mary Harney. “I would have given the money to Cherry Orchard Hospital which has been starved of funding for years.”
Cherry Hospital has recently seen a ward for Alzheimer’s patients closed,” she said.
Disagreeing with the judge's assertion that she had “wasted” tax payers' money, she accused the State and Mary Harney of wasting funds on what she called a “political show trial.”
“My actions were an act of civil disobedience,” she told reporters.