Former Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said she “ran for her life” after the car she was traveling in was surrounded by anti-water charge protesters in Dublin on November 15, 2014.
Deputy Burton broke down as she told the trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and six others about the moment she and her advisor were told by an inspector to get out of a garda car and into a waiting jeep in the midst of a large angry crowd of protestors.
“I was quite frankly terrified,” she said, describing the large crowd surrounding her as “very, very wild”, “enraged”, “wishing all kinds of stuff on me, death,” and shouting and roaring names at her like “c**t” and “bitch”.
Ms Burton said Deputy Murphy looked “pretty happy with himself” and was “smiling broadly” as he spoke through a megaphone behind the unmarked garda car in which she remained sitting for a number of hours with her advisor Karen O’Connell.
The former leader of the Labour Party told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that earlier that day as she made her way to a graduation ceremony at a church in Tallaght, she had been struck twice in the back of the neck, once with a water bomb.
Mr Murphy (34) together with South Dublin councillors Kieran Mahon (39) and Michael Murphy (53) and four other men, are charged with falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without their consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght.
Paul Murphy of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon of Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; Michael Murphy of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, Dublin; Frank Donaghy (71) of Alpine Rise, Tallaght; Ken Purcell (50) of Kiltalown Green; Michael Banks (46) of Brookview Green, Tallaght and Scott Masterson (34) of Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght have all denied the charges.
Ms Burton told Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, that it had been a very happy and celebratory occasion when she arrived at the education centre of An Cosan in Tallaght where about 60 people were graduating with a variety of degrees and diplomas.
She said she got a shock when she was struck in the back of the neck twice, once by a water bomb, and could feel the back of her hair and her jacket being drenched.
She said her advisor gave her a loan of her jacket and that she dried her hair as best as she could with a tissue before she spoke to graduates at the church.
Deputy Burton said that towards the end of the ceremony gardaí advised them to leave very quickly by a side door to a waiting unmarked garda saloon car.
She said that when herself and her advisor got into the car, it was immediately surrounded by a large crowd shouting, banging on the car and throwing eggs and other missiles.
The court heard that Karen O’Connell became extremely upset and began to cry, and that Ms Burton put her arms around her.
Ms Burton became upset as she told the court that her shoe began to come off as she tried to make her way to another garda car, on instructions from a superintendent.
“There were two lines of gardai to one side of the car when I got out. It was very terrifying, the crowd surged, the shouting and roaring was much more intense.
“The inspector stood in front of me and walked backwards, he kept saying ‘look at me, look at me’, to try and keep me focused, because I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“I kept thinking I was going to fall; I began to lose one of my shoes. The crowd was very, very wild. He kept saying, ‘Don’t worry about your shoe'.
“I kept thinking if the crowd got us, where would we run to, and how would I run without my shoe,” she said.
The court heard that the jeep that Deputy Burton and her advisor were escorted into was also surrounded and blocked by protestors, and that the left windscreen was shattered.
“The guards were getting a horrible time, they were being pushed and shoved and pelted with eggs,” she said, describing one guard beside her car window as “very stoical, he just stayed right were he was”.
Ms Burton said the jeep made “very painful progress, inch by inch by inch” through the crowd, which included a number of children aged nine or ten.
After a total of three hours, the jeep turned off the main road towards the Jobstown Inn, and the guards told Ms Burton and her advisor that when they opened the doors, they would have to run to another car.
“I know that road since I was a child. I felt I was running for my life. I ran up the incline of the hill, Karen was beside me, the crowd running to follow us.
“I just legged it as fast I could, I don’t know how I got the energy. I was very stiff and cold when I got out of the car,” she said.
Ms Burton said the gardaí then drove her into the hills and to the Phoenix Park, where she used the toilet facilities and had a cup of tea.
She said that throughout the incident a number of people contacted her by text, phone call and social media, including her daughter and her Labour Party colleague Brendan Howlin.
She said she took a couple of photos in the first car and gave her phone to her advisor in the second car. The court heard that there were 42 videos of the incident on her phone when she gave it to gardaí to download.
Ms Burton said the crowd were shouting and roaring abuse at her and the gardaí, including “derogatory names for women and for the guards” such as c**t, bitch, fuck, “shame on you”, she said.
She described one woman attacking and banging the car who was “beside her self with rage, very, very, very angry, wishing all kinds of stuff on me, death,” she said.
She told Sean Guerin SC, defending Paul Murphy, that she couldn’t hear much political language and was more struck by the personalised language and name-calling of herself and the gardai.
However, she said that at one point she heard Deputy Murphy say “peaceful protest” or “something like that”.
The trial continues before Judge Melanie Greally and a jury of seven men and five women.