Action over Irish Water protests adjourned

Meter installer GMC Sierra before High Court seeking injunctions against protesters

Supporters of the Irish Water protesters at the Four Courts in Dublin today after the High Court action taken by GMC. Photograph: Collins Courts

Supporters of the Irish Water protesters at the Four Courts in Dublin today after the High Court action taken by GMC. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The High Court has adjourned to early next month contempt proceedings against a number of people over protests about the installation of water meters.

Meter installation contractor GMC Sierra Ltd had sought injunctions preventing its workers being assaulted, intimidated and prevented from installing meters.

It previously obtained injunctions against nine people and yesterday sought to bring proceedings against another group of nine people, alleging contempt for breaching an injunction.GMC Sierra said the injunction notices were posted on its workers’ vans and on barriers at work sites but protests had continued.

Scenes had become chaotic and there was a danger someone would get seriously injured, it was claimed.

The company also asked the court to amend the previous October 2nd order, which restrained interference with the meter installation, so protesters could not come within 20 metres of the installation works.

The court was packed with anti-water charge protesters who, when counsel for GMC Sierra said he was applying for a 20-metre exclusion area at work sites, began to jeer loudly.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said this was the High Court and if such behaviour was repeated he would clear the court.

Jim O’Callaghan, for GMC Sierra, opposed an adjournment application by solicitor Cahir O’Higgins, for eight of the nine defendants, who said time was needed to instruct counsel and swear affidavits in response to those from the company.

Mr O’Higgins said his clients dissociated themselves from the earlier jeering and denied any breach of court orders.

They were opposing the 20-metre exclusion zone because they believed it would be a disproportionate interference with their constitutional right to free expression of their opposition to “an unjust and unfair levy or tax by an organisation which has questions to answer in terms of bonuses”.

Mr O’Higgins said he had seen video footage which GMC Sierra intended to rely on and it was difficult to reconcile [what is in the footage] as being intimidation of workers.

What was being sought in the 20-metre exclusion zone application was a situation where his clients were being prevented from entering their own premises. The judge suggested, as an adjournment was being sought, the parties could discuss whether undertakings could be given by the defendants pending a hearing.

Later, Prionsias Ó Maolchalain, for one of the nine, said his client had agreed to give an undertaking in terms of the October 2nd injunction order on the understanding he was making no admissions and without prejudice to his position.

Mr O’Higgins said his clients were prepared to undertake to continue to engage in lawful conduct but, “for very specific reasons”, felt giving undertaking amounted to “tacit acceptance” they had somehow breached the court order.

Mr Justice Gilligan said he accepted the undertaking from Mr Ó Maolchalain’s client but was not prepared to accept what he called Mr O’Higgins “roundabout” undertaking.

“I take the view it is simply a play on words and I do not accept the submission on behalf of Mr O’Higgins,” he said.

The previous order of the court was quite clear and remains in place pending further hearing, he said.

It was clear, not only to the defendants but to the “very large attendance in court”, the order applies to all persons who have notice of it, he said.

There was loud applause from many of those in court at the end of the case.

The matter was adjourned to November 5th.