Law guarantees right to protest and to be free, Jobstown trial hears

Paul Murphy and five others facing charges of false imprisonment of Joan Burton


Colm Keena

The Irish constitution guarantees the right to protest but also the right to be free, prosecution counsel stated in his closing address to the Jobstown trial.

If the judge in the trial asked that the members of the jury should be detained, someone could go to another court and have them out in a matter of minutes.

The same applied if the gardaí tried to detain them, or the army, or “the men in which coats,” said Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“Why would we allow Paul Murphy to do it? Or Michael Murphy? Or Scott Masterson? We don’t.”

Mr Gillane was addressing the jury in the case where Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and five others are facing charges of the false imprisonment of the former Labour Party leader, Joan Burton, and her then assistant, Kate O’Connell, at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Dublin, on Saturday November 15th, 2014.

The other accused are: Solidarity councillors Michael Murphy, of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, and Kieran Mahon, Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; courier Scott Masterson, of Carrigmmore Drive, Tallaght; Frank Donaghy, a retired construction worker of Alpine Rise, Belgard Heights, Tallaght; and Michael Banks, of Brookview Green, Tallaght.

The alleged offences occurred when a crowd of water charges protesters surrounded Garda vehicles containing Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell, following a graduation ceremony in St Thomas’s Church, Jobstown.

Mr Gillane told the jury it would be a disaster if the jury members allowed themselves decide the case on the basis that they were for or against water charges.

Adults must be responsible for their actions and being angry about some issue does not change that, he said.

People could be angry about a thousand and one different matters.

People are required to control their anger rather than indulge it, and when they do indulge it then they must accept responsibility for that.

An alternative view “reduces people’s humanity to a shadow”.

It was not correct in law to say that you can deny someone’s liberty because of a political protest.

Not a political question

The State’s case was that the two women were deprived of their liberty without their consent from the time the protesters gathered around an unmarked Garda Avensis, to when the women ran from a Garda Jeep three hours later.

The essential question which the jury must decide is not a political one, Mr Gillane said.

The jury must decide, based on the evidence, what the facts are and whether that means each of the accused transgressed the criminal law.

“It is not a political question that you are being asked to answer. It just doesn’t matter.”

Ms Burton was a serious-minded individual who had not been born into a life in an ivory tower and had lived a life committed to public service.

Ms O’Connell was not a politician.

Ms Burton had been invited to the graduation event on the Saturday morning and was “entitled to be there”.

The protesters were entitled to protest. This State does not just tolerate peaceful political protests, it facilitates them, Mr Gillane said.

There is a constitutional right to protest, but there are obvious limits.

“People have a right to protest, but they can’t do it in your kitchen.”

Video from the day showed Paul Murphy addressing the crowd in the context of a vote about what to do with Ms Burton, whether to “let her go” or continue slow-marching the Jeep in which she was trapped on Fortunestown Road.

The decision was “classed as some sort of motion in the literary society of Trinity College” but it was not democratic or anything like it, Mr Gillane said.

“It’s a betrayal of democracy. An inversion.”

Sean Guerin SC, for Paul Murphy, said the economic collapse and the austerity that followed it had led to great hardship.

“What the working poor in areas such as Jobstown have endured is not austerity but affliction,” he said, referring to the word used in the Book of Job.

Austerity had caused some people to have to watch their children emigrate, while others had seen their children “surrender their lives in despair”.

He said the Dáil can only be made answerable to the people periodically. Often the period is five to seven years.

“What his case is about is what happens in the interim.”

Faith in the democratic system had been tested since the crisis not just in Ireland but in great democracies such as France and the United States.

The trial, which began on April 24th, continues before Judge Melanie Greally.