SHAUN CONNOLLY: Dusting down after the Battle of Jobstown

The Siege of St Joan, or the Martyrdom of Paul Murphy?

Everyone has their own take on the Battle of Jobstown, and that take will help shape their decision in the looming general election.

The ‘she says/he says’ political drama flowing from the rowdy, ugly protest in south-west Dublin last November will help frame the election campaign and come to define what level of political agitation is now permissible in Ireland.

Though hardly on a scale with the scenes in Greece, Jobstown saw protestors accused of shouting sexist and homophobic abuse at gardaí; surrounding the Tánaiste’s car for more than two hours; and preventing it from exiting the scene.

Mr Murphy claims he was not inciting the crowd, and just happened to have a megaphone in his car boot in case of an unexpected megaphone emergency.

The Anti-Austerity TD says he used the megaphone to try to calm the situation and was asked by gardaí to help negotiate the Tánaiste’s “release”, at one point asking the crowd: “Do we agree to let her go?”

Mr Murphy points to the fact that farmers were blocking processing plants round the time of Jobstown, and yet nothing has happened to them. This is the politicisation of police action against anti-water charge protestors, he claims. But the farmers did not trap two women in a car for more than two hours as obscenities were shouted at them.

Some people might say Ms Burton is an old political pro and should be able to take the cut-and-thrust of protest — but what about the young assistant trapped with her? Anyone who spoke to Ms Burton’s assistant at Leinster House following the incident could see she was still shaken for some time afterwards.

Mr Murphy denies that attempts were made to try and rock the Tánaiste’s car, but she was hit by a water balloon when being transferred to another vehicle in order to finally leave the scene.

The gardaí were placed in a difficult position: It was a flashpoint of unusual intensity, and had to be investigated, as it represented a major hardening in the tone of Irish political protest.

To do nothing would leave the force open to the charge they were intimidated by the role of opposition TDs in the protest. To bring charges leaves them open to claims from demonstrators they behaved like “Coalition stormtroopers”. However, using six officers in a dawn arrest of Mr Murphy was undeniably over-the-top, and played right into the narrative that he was being made a political example of.

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As a TD, it is highly unlikely he would have refused the offer to voluntarily attend a Garda station. The heavy-handedness of his “lifting” underscored accusations of victimhood. Similarly, did it really need 10 officers to arrest a teenage boy? Such actions feed into Mr Murphy’s imagery of housing estates living in fear of the force and harbouring “hatred” of Ms Burton as a result.

Mr Murphy’s refusal to accept the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions is harder to sustain. It is a very serious situation when an elected representative effectively doubts the DPP’s political impartiality.

However, the fact that Mr Murphy learned from the media, rather than the relevant authorities, that he was to be charged adds to his conspiracy theory claims.

And if Mr Murphy is charged with false imprisonment, that is a very serious offence with potentially very serious jail time attached to it if he is found guilty.

With a 10-month backlog in the courts, any case would be delayed until next summer, well after the slated general election, but the legal action is bound to cast a long shadow over the campaign as Irish Water feeds into the key economic themes of the election as it comes to symbolise all that the opposition say is wrong with the age of austerity.

A promise to bring in water charges saw Fine Gael take almost half the Dáil seats in 2011. After campaigning for metered payments, Labour adopted the senior Coalition partner’s stance in the programme for government. Is it then alright to take to the streets to campaign against the policy rather than use the ballot box next time out?

Government critics are already dismissing the expected Murphy court case as a “show trial” — and in one sense they are right because it will at least show us what level of political protest is now acceptable in Ireland.

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