Jobstown protest: What happened on the day
Step-by-step account of water charges protest which erupted around then tánaiste Joan Burton
Then tánaiste Joan Burton inside a Garda car surrounded by anti-water charges protesters in Jobstown, November 2014. Egg streams down the window and a protester makes an obscene gesture. File photograph: Crispin Rodwell
CCTV footage shows Paul Murphy approaching the grounds of St Thomas’s Church, in Jobstown, Dublin, at 12.20pm on November 15th, 2014. He is carrying a loudhailer.
Inside the church the then tánaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton was attending an event organised by the An Cosán continuing education project for a number of graduates.
There had been a short procession from the An Cosán building to the church, during which Bruton had been verbally abused by water charges protesters. She had been hit on the back of the head with a water balloon. Her then-adviser, Karen O’Connell, was hit on the head with an egg.
The few gardaí that were there to provide security were getting worried, because there were more and more protesters gathering and the mood was hostile. A call went out for back-up.
An unmarked Avensis was driven into the church grounds and parked, facing the wall, next to a side door. Burton was advised that she would have to leave and a few minutes later, accompanied by O’Connell, the two women and a few gardaí came out the side door and hurried towards the unmarked car.
They were spotted by protesters. CCTV shows them quickly surrounding the Avensis so it was unable to move. The car was trapped against the church wall with the two women inside. It was 12.45pm.
The State would later argue that what happened from then on constituted the false imprisonment of Burton and O’Connell.
Courier and Éirígí activist Scott Masterson (34) was among the first of the protesters to reach the Avensis. He was joined by, among others, Murphy, Solidarity councillors with South Dublin County Council Michael Murphy (53) and Kieran Mahon (39); retired construction worker Frank Donaghy (71), who had been out getting petrol for his car when he spotted the water charges protest and joined in; and Michael Banks (46).
The scene was heated and chaotic. Video footage taken by some of those present would later be used in the trial of the above-named men. It showed a scene of anger and mayhem, with people banging on the car and shouting political slogans and personal abuse, while the inadequate number of gardaí struggled to keep people back.
The footage shown to the trial included some taken from inside the car . In one clip Paul Murphy could be seen standing alongside Banks . Banks is smiling and gives the two fingers to the two women. “Up your a**e Joan,” he says.
There were 50 or more people gathered round the car, some thumping , some chanting “ shame on you”.
Minister for Children and An Cosán founder Katherine Zappone didn’t like what she was seeing. She dialled 999 and called for more gardaí. “I felt deeply concerned,” she told the court. “I felt scared.”
Refused to engage
The most senior Garda officer present, Insp Derek Maguire, said he tried to speak with Paul Murphy, but the TD refused to engage.
Some of the protesters sat on the ground behind the car. More gardaí arrived. Soon after 1pm they tried to forcibly remove the protesters who were sitting on the ground, but they locked arms.
Footage showed a number of uniformed gardaí pulling at Murphy, who was sitting on the ground. The gardaí were dragging on his top and a woman leaned in to open its zip because the top was being pulled up against Murphy’s throat and was choking him.
The top came off, leaving Murphy bare-chested but still resisting. Soon after this, gardaí abandoned their effort. The scene then calmed down.
However, both Burton and O’Connell would later say they were at all times concerned, and sometimes terrified . Some members of the crowd were banging on the car roof. The women were worried the crowd might be able to open the car doors and pull them out.
“Bitch”, “c**t” and “whore” were among the names being hurled at Burton as the chanting of political slogans was mixed with violent personal abuse. Burton said there was one woman standing beside the car who was beside herself with rage. “She was wishing all kinds of stuff on me. Illnesses. Death.”
Run inside cordon
After the arrival of Supt Daniel Flavin the decision was made to move the women to a marked Garda SUV at the church gates. The gardaí formed two lines so that the women could run inside a cordon to the waiting SUV. The women were told to move.
Both women described having to run between the Garda lines as a particularly frightening experience. The crowd was angry and surging forward. Video footage showed the cordon collapsed almost immediately. The run from one vehicle to the other took about 30 seconds. One protester could be heard shouting: “Get the c**nts!” It was 1.36pm.
O’Connell said she was absolutely petrified. The crowd was “swarming around” and it felt like an “angry mob”. She was crying and hyperventilating. “I felt very, very fearful and very, very scared.”
Although the cordon quickly imploded, the women managed to reach the SUV. As O’Connell was getting in a protester grabbed the collar of her coat but a garda pulled the hand away. The women got in. Someone smashed the windscreen. Eggs and other objects were being thrown .
The protesters then fought to prevent the SUV leaving through the church gate. Footage showed that Paul Murphy was one of the first to arrive to frustrate the SUV’s progress.
“People very deliberately stationed themselves in front of the Jeep to make sure it couldn’t move even though people were being caught up in the squeeze,” Garda Jonathan Ryan told the trial. It was “a very dangerous situation”.
At one point a woman fell over and he went to help her up. After he did so, Banks started calling him a “woman beater, a disgrace, a uniformed scumbag, and a coward”. Banks, he said, knew that in fact he had helped the women. He was trying to goad him into losing his temper, Ryan said.
The SUV managed to inch its way out the church gate and onto the Fortunestown Road, with gardaí pushing the crowd forward so the vehicle could occupy the small space created.
Burton said the gardaí outside the vehicle were getting “a horrible time. They were being pushed and shoved and pelted with eggs”.
Det Garda Richard Hansen said he overheard Paul Murphy at one stage saying to another man: “They have no more coming. We’ll stop it here.” He took this to mean that there were no more gardaí coming, and that the protesters would stop the forward progress of the vehicle.
Later, members of the Garda Public Order Unit turned up and made a concerted effort to remove the people . It didn’t work. As one protester was wrestled away, they would be replaced by another.
Paul Murphy was among those who resisted the Garda effort. The crowd was growing and temperatures were rising. Protesters were sitting in front of the SUV and even the slow forward movement of the vehicle was no longer possible. A number of hundreds of people were surrounding the Garda Jeep.
Sgt Brian Boland of the Public Order Unit said the situation was the most violent he had dealt with. After the failed effort to pull the protesters from blocking the Jeep, he looked down and “there at my feet” was Paul Murphy.
The two men discussed the situation. Murphy said it was a peaceful protest and that people had a right to engage in acts of civil disobedience.
Boland said at this stage the protest had been going on for two and a half hours, and it was getting dangerous. The right to protest and to assembly had to be balanced with other rights, he said.
When he asked how the matter could be resolved, Murphy said his starting point was that the public order unit would have to be removed.
Video of what happened subsequently was shown to the trial. There was a dispute about whether there was a “deal” between the gardaí and Murphy, but there could be no disputing that, following a discussion, there was a “vote” held, which seemingly backed the idea that, in return for the withdrawal of the Garda unit, the slow march would resume. That is what happened.
The POU withdrew, the Jeep resumed its slow progress, and the jostling and name-calling and general mayhem continued up the Fortunestown Road.
Not allowed to leave
As the Jeep neared the bypass, it became apparent it was not going to be allowed to leave. Sgt Boland said he again approached Paul Murphy and asked him to intercede in an effort to have the Jeep be allowed to go, but Murphy said he had no mandate for such an effort. He also, the Garda told the court, said that he had “lost control” of the crowd.
For the second time the two women were told by gardaí that they would have to move to another vehicle. When the moment came, Burton got out of the car and ran. “I just legged it as fast as I could,” she told the court.
This time they were not inside a cordon but were running across a stretch of open ground, with gardaí to each side running alongside them. “I felt I was running for my life,” Burton said. Burton reached her car and, once she was inside, it immediately sped away.
The departure in the Garda car from the Fortunestown Road had occurred at 3.45pm. It would later be the State’s case that the period of false imprisonment that began when the Avensis was blocked, ended at this point. It had lasted almost exactly three hours.