Joan Burton denies trying to portray Jobstown protesters as ‘rabble’

Former tánaiste told name-calling ‘should be water off a duck’s back’

 

Former tánaiste Joan Burton has denied she left out any reference to “water protesters” in her statement to gardaí because she wanted to make the protesters out as a “disorganised rabble”.

Under questioning from defence counsel, the Labour Party TD denied she left any reference to water protesters out of her statement to gardaí because she did not want to give them a “veneer of legitimacy”.

Ms Burton took the witness stand for the third day on Tuesday in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and six other water protesters.

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 on November 15, 2014.

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.

The trial has heard Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell were trapped in cars for about three hours after they left a graduation ceremony at An Cosán education centre in Tallaght.

Political statement

Defence barrister Michael O’Higgins, SC, representing Ken Purcell, asked Ms Burton why the words “water protesters” did not feature in her statements to gardaí.

The court broke briefly for Ms Burton to read her statement.

When asked why she did not include those words, Ms Burton said: “I was not making political statements.

“I was asked to tell what happened to me, a sequence of events,” she said.

Mr O’Higgins told Ms Burton he did not defend the behaviour of anyone who threw a water balloon or an egg at her.

That was “an indefensible action”, he said. His client had not engaged in such behaviour, he added.

He said he was also not defending “anybody who obstructed your path in a way that was unlawful”. However, he put it to Ms Burton that as the leader of the country, being called distasteful names should be “water off a duck’s back”.

“Can I suggest to you for the leader of a country, while it’s thoroughly distasteful and unpleasant to be called these things, a bitch, a c***, that is water off a duck’s back,” Mr O’Higgins said.

Raining blows

“Not necessarily, if it’s accompanied by people raining blows on a car,” Ms Burton replied, adding that the day of the Jobstown protest was a “very unusual experience.”

“This particular episode was entirely different to other experiences I had,” she said. “The venom and the hatred that was part of this particular event was unusual.”

Mr O’Higgins put it to Ms Burton that while name-calling may be ugly, it was also a person’s right to express that view as part of freedom of expression.

“You should be big enough and bold enough to take it on board,” he said.

Ms Burton replied: “I’m not sure why you’re asking me to be big enough and bold enough”.

The cross-examination became heated at times, with Mr O’Higgins at one point saying, “Why don’t you just answer the question?”

He put it to Ms Burton that “99 per cent of people on that protest were behaving in a way that was impeccable”.

“There was no rage. There was no anger,” he said.

Ms Burton replied: “That was not my experience. I don’t think that was so.”

‘No hassle really’

The trial was shown video footage from Garda air support at about 2.53pm that day during which a dispatcher could be heard saying the crowd was dispersing.

The dispatcher said they were “making good progress” and Ms Burton’s car should reach the Tallaght by-pass within 20 to 30 minutes.

“There’s no hassle really,” the dispatcher said, adding there had been a bit of pushing when the garda public order unit arrived.

Mr O’Higgins put it to Ms Burton that those who engaged in pushing were “a tiny minority and not representative of the group as a whole.” He suggested the situation was “playing out quite placidly”.

“I’m no expert,” Ms Burton responded, adding that she had not been party to the conversation from the air.

“I wasn’t able to open the car door and get out and go freely,” she said.

He put it to her that she didn’t mention water protesters in her statement to gardaí because she wanted to make out it was a disorganised rabble. Ms Burton denied this was the case.

Mr O’Higgins also questioned Ms Burton at length on the recession, bank debt and the bailout, at one point prompting Judge Melanie Greally to note that there was no need to go into such a level of detail.

Defence barrister Ciaran O’Loughlin SC, representing Michael Banks, put it to Ms Burton that there were “many many people there that afternoon who did nothing untoward”.

Ms Burton agreed, but said there were also “many many people there who were protesting”.

“They were banging the car, they were shouting and roaring,” she said. She said as time went on, she found the situation was “scary and menacing”. She added that she did not identify Mr Banks that day.

“Particularly when I wasn’t able to leave the car and there was the constant worry if people got the car door open what would happen to us and where would we run to,” she said.

Under further questioning, Ms Burton said she believed people have the right to protest peacefully.

“But personally I would not agree with the behaviour of many of the protesters in that particular campaign,” she said.

The trial is not sitting on Wednesday. Ms Burton will return to the stand on Thursday, when the trial continues before Judge Greally and a jury of seven men and five women.

Ms Burton said that in the past, she has occasionally had to wait while a protest march was taking place. “I have been on the top of a bus as the march goes past,” she said.

But she said this was in the context of marches that had prior clearance from gardaí. “The gardaí [WOULD]have cleared the route for the march,” she said.

Shaming

She said she felt protests in recent times had become “very different in character to what has been the traditional protest in Ireland, which has been peaceful”. Part of a new political philosophy at the moment included “shaming”, she added.

Mr O’Higgins also suggested to Ms Burton that reference she made in a Dail debate in October 2014 to protestors having extremely expensive phones, tablets and video cameras was an attempt by her to undermine them.

Counsel said she was suggesting that because protesters could afford “extremely expensive phones as you perceived it to be, paying for water couldn’t be that much of a deal”.

He said she was suggesting that these were “people manipulating the system when they don’t have a genuine complaint and this was your way of undermining them”, Mr O’Higgins put to Ms Burton.

“I don’t entertain those feelings at all,” Ms Burton replied.

Mr O’Loughlin asked Ms Burton if she remembered the Vietnam War protests and personal chants against then-American president Lyndon B Johnson such as “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

Ms Burton said she was in college at the time, working and caring for a sick family member. She appealed to Judge Greally at that point, saying she hadn’t known her personal life was going to be questioned.

“I don’t want to go back to that part of my life,” she said.

Judge Greally observed that the question had been about the Vietnam War protests, rather than Ms Burton’s personal life.