Jailed water protesters will be freed if they agree to court orders

Judge says ‘door to this court is open’ for four protesters who left him with no alternative

Protester Kenneth Hanlon outside Mountjoy Prison during a demonstration over the imprisonment of  water charges demonstrators. Photograph: PA

Protester Kenneth Hanlon outside Mountjoy Prison during a demonstration over the imprisonment of water charges demonstrators. Photograph: PA

 

Jailed water charge protesters can free themselves simply by undertaking to abide by court orders not to interfere with meter installers, a High Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said the “door to this court is open” to the four protesters who had left him with no alternative but to jail them.

He was speaking after a fifth man, jailed in his absence because he is in the Canary Islands for health reasons, wrote agreeing to abide by the orders.

A stay was put on the committal to prison order against Michael Batty (64) of Edenmore Avenue, Raheny, Dublin, until Tuesday as he was abroad for health reasons.

When the matter came before Mr Justice Gilligan on Tuesday, he adjourned it again until March 9th after the court heard Mr Batty was now agreeing to abide by the court orders.

Mr Batty was one of five people who the judge ordered last week should be committed to prison for breaching orders not to interfere with water meter installers GMC Sierra.

In a letter from Mr Batty handed in to the judge Tuesday by his solicitor Cahir O’Higgins, Mr Batty apologised for not appearing in court last week as he was a chronic asthmatic who had gone abroad to a hot climate with financial help from his family.

He could not afford to change his March 6th return flight date, but was prepared to give an undertaking to sign a bond not to breach any injunction.

Mr Justice Gilligan said in view of Mr Batty’s attitude, it was only fair the court should hear further submissions on the matter after he had returned from abroad. He listed the matter again for March 9th.

Mr Higgins said he felt he had to bring to the court’s attention that three of the other four people jailed last week for contempt, spent three days in 23-hour lock up.

While the reason given for this was that they had to be processed, Mr O’Higgins said this was, along with their loss of liberty, an additional punishment which was not sanctioned or fair. While it was not malicious, it had stopped when he wrote to the prison authorities.

He was not making any application to the court in relation to it but it was important the judge in the case should know.

Mr Justice Gilligan said this was not a matter for the court but for the prison governor.

The judge said as Mr O’Higgins had made a statement, he too wanted to make a statement in view of the widespread publicity and discussion about this matter and to clarify the situation.

The four people in prison were “not there as a result of peaceful protest” but because the court had made an order which they breached.

“It was open to them to appeal that order if they were dissatisfied”, he said.

He hoped they would see from Mr Batty’s case the options open to them.

“It is important people in the general community know that it is open to them to apologise for their contempt and give an undertaking to abide by the orders”, he said.

They had effectively left the court with no other choice but to impose sentences for contempt.

However, if any of the four wished to adopt the same attitude as Mr Batty “then the door of this court is open to them”, he said.