High Court overturns refusal to give serial Dáil protester bail

 

A MAN who parked a cherry picker emblazoned with protest slogans at the gates of Dáil Éireann yesterday morning was released from jail last night after his defence challenged the court’s right to keep him in custody.

Joseph McNamara (41), Dun na Carraige, Blackrock, Co Galway, was arrested by gardaí after he came down from a cherry picker, a high-reaching crane, shortly before 9am.

He was already facing charges of criminal damage following an incident in September when he allegedly drove a cement mixer containing the words “Anglo Toxic Bank” into the gates of Leinster House. He was out on bail when yesterday’s incident occurred.

Mr McNamara, a former property developer, was taken to Dublin District Court yesterday morning where he was charged with dangerous driving.

Judge Patrick McMahon remanded him in custody after Garda Insp John Rice objected to him being released on the grounds he had breached the terms of his previous bail. These required that he not come to “the unlawful attention of gardaí”.

Mr McNamara’s legal team then went to the High Court, under Article 40 of the Constitution, to challenge the State’s right to keep him in custody.

Counsel for the defendant, Michael O’Higgins SC, said his client did arrive at the Dáil in a cherry picker and was there to engage in legitimate protest. He had decked out the vehicle with various posters referring to politicians and to “Mr Ahern’s pension plan” and how the cost of it would be borne by the taxpayers.

He said Mr McNamara had engaged in protest on other occasions and “it was a curiosity” that he had felt “the full wrath of the law on the same day the offence occurred”.

He read into the record an affidavit of Cahir O’Higgins, solicitor to Mr McNamara, describing what had happened at the District Court. The solicitor said his client had been remanded “in summary fashion”. He said he told the District Court judge his client’s conduct “was in fact a lawful civil protest”. He said the judge accused him of “playing with words”, would not listen to his arguments and refused bail. He had also said “you are not being heard, I’m not hearing you,” when the solicitor protested and he called for the next case.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Michael Peart asked what the evidence had been of dangerous driving. If it was of “a dramatic and stark nature” it could sway a judge, he said. But counsel said it was not the case that the cherry picker had been driven wildly, “or anything of that sort”.

After a one-hour break, counsel for the State, Paul Anthony McDermott, said he had been directed by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to oppose the application to release Mr McNamara.

Mr Justice Peart then made an order releasing him from custody.

He is due to appear before the court again next Tuesday.

After his release at the back of the courtroom, Mr McNamara shook hands with Insp Rice, who had opposed his bail. “Stop bringing plant machinery up to the Dáil, that’s all I’m telling you,” the inspector remarked.

Outside the court, Mr McNamara’s solicitor, Mr O’Higgins, said his client was “very pleased” with the outcome of the High Court case, but was “enormously respectful” of the District Court judge.

“He is anxious to say he doesn’t wish nor did he ever wish to come to the unlawful attention of the gardaí in any shape or form but on this blackest of days for Irish society and this country he felt a need to make some form of legitimate and legal civil protest,” Mr O’Higgins said.