The trial of six men accused of falsely imprisoning the former Tánaiste Joan Burton has heard that the root cause of an escalation in the protest had to be "laid firmly at the door of gardaí".
Solidarity TD Paul Murphy (aged 34) and five other men have pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght on November 15, 2014.
In his closing arguments to the jury Raymond Comyn SC, defending Councillor Michael Murphy, questioned why gardaí had failed to try engage and negotiate with the politicians and protestors earlier in order to diffuse matters, before the anger of the crowd increased rapidly.
“Why was it left until everything had blown up? After that, the whole temperature increased exponentially, Aughrim was lost, any attempt to diffuse matters was lost,” he said.
Mr Comyn quoted an inspector at the scene who said he was “waiting for reinforcements to arrive” before making tactical decisions; he also described how gardaí ran in the wrong direction because they didn't know where they were needed.
“The gardaí were not briefed. What class of an operation is that?” he said. He said every decision made by gardaí on the day was “unwise and inappropriate”, comparing gardaí who attended the protest to “the Keystone Cops”.
Mr Comyn claimed there was “something rotten at the core of this investigation” because evidence given by gardaí was proved “demonstrably wrong” in court by video footage. He said he was “very critical” of gardaí for not finding “crucial” YouTube footage uncovered by Cllr Murphy,
The video in question showed Cllr Murphy speaking through a loud hailer, proposing to move the protest on and warning against “argy-bargy”, saying “this isn’t what we came here for”.
A woman in the video, who told the crowd through the megaphone that she was from Killinarden in Tallaght, advocated keeping Ms Burton and her advisor there.
“The final irony..is that a man who promoted a solution to the problem is now before the court, while the lady who was promoting the problem hasn’t even been identified or tracked down by gardaí,” said Mr Comyn.
Mr Comyn pointed out that Cllr Murphy had actually taken steps to restrain people from acting violently and had pulled some protesters back from the jeep.
He said his client had also asked a man who was “hogging the megaphone” and chanting “Shove your water meters up your ass” to desist.
And, he said that although Cllr Murphy did bang on the garda jeep, he was doing so at a time when the jeep was moving as a warning to the driver who could not see the people sitting down in front of it.
Mr Comyn endorsed a comment made by his client when interviewed by gardaí: “The videos speak for themselves,” telling the jury that were it not for the footage, this would be an “utterly different” case.
Counsel for another of the accused, Cllr Kieran Mahon, also criticised what he described as “a series of misjudgements” and “tactical mistakes” by gardaí on the day.
Kerida Naidoo SC said his client “didn’t say boo to a goose all day” at the protest. He said he was a political representative and a political activist, he could not be described as a criminal and was never accused of violent disorder.
“He didn't use force or threaten to use force on Ms Burton, her advisor, or any member of the gardaí; he didn't use vile or threatening language; he didn't push or shove gardaí.
“He didn't throw an egg, a balloon or any other missile, he didn't have a water metre hidden down his trousers,” said Mr Naidoo.
Mr Naidoo said that there were 11 other people still facing trial and that nine of those were charged with both false imprisonment and violent disorder.
“It was the violent disorder that put the two women in fear, and it was because of the fear that they didn't get out of the car. And he (Cllr Mahon) is not responsible for that,” he said.
Mr Naidoo played a number of video segments to the jury, including one showing Cllr Mahon walking away from the crowd that was beginning to gather around the garda car containing Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell.
Further videos showed Cllr Mahon at the periphery of the crowd, moving in the opposite direction of the crowd, and sitting down for about five minutes until gardaí pulled him up.
Paul Murphy of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon of Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; Michael Murphy of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, Dublin; Frank Donaghy (aged 71) of Alpine Rise, Tallaght; Michael Banks (aged 46) of Brookview Green, Tallaght and Scott Masterson (aged 34) of Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght have all denied the charges.
Mr Naidoo also took issue with how gardaí treated “the ordinary people” of Tallaght, “as though they were just a nuisance to be cleared away”.
Mr Naidoo also pointed out the positive effects of historical protests in the past, including those for women's rights and the anti-apartheid movement, adding that whether the jury agreed with them or not, the anti-water charges protests had been ultimately successful.
He said that Ms Burton was in favour of peaceful protest, but that all politicians were in favour of peaceful protest “until they get the big job”.
“They're all in favour of ineffectual protest which doesn't affect them. What they wanted to see was a line of Fr Dougals and Fr Teds impotently standing at the side of the road, chanting softly, 'Down with this sort of thing',” he said.
He compared this type of protest to “meaningful protests” that lead to “a party that was in government going to having six seats in the Dáil....that's the sort of protest they don't want.”
Mr Naidoo said there was “no justification” for the way in which gardaí arrested his client in a “dawn raid” with armed personnel.
“It was an abuse of power by the gardaí. It was done to show him who was boss and to humiliate him in his own home, and to send out a message that he's not truly a politician, he's actually a criminal,” said Mr Naidoo.
“In that case, the parents of the young women who surrounded Justin Bieber in Bushy Park last night had better watch out, because they can expect gardaí armed with guns to turn up at dawn and arrest them,” he joked.
Mr Naidoo said Kieran Mahon was elected by the people of West Dublin, and that if he hadn't challenged the political world view of anti-austerity, he would have been “failing his electorate” in the same way that that electorate said Joan Burton had failed them.
“He was doing what the people who elected him wanted him to do,” he concluded.
In his closing speech for the prosecution Sean Gillane outlined the State's case against Cllr Michael Murphy and Cllr Mahon.
He said that Cllr Murphy was there for the sit-down protest at the garda, was interfering with garda attempts and was banging the car.
Mr Gillane said Cllr Murphy said: “The only way she'll get sanctuary is in the church” and counsel said this was an acknowledgement by him that the two women were not free.
Mr Gillane said Cllr Mahon did walk away but he returned to the scene and was part of the group sitting down at the back of the car.
He said Cllr Mahon also sat in front of the jeep and was present when the vote was cast.