Joan Burton denounces ‘sexist, derogatory’ abuse during Jobstown trial
‘It’s not healthy for the people writing that stuff, or those who happen upon what was posted’
Former tánaiste, Joan Burton: ‘The case took a terrible toll on my family and friends.’ Photogrpah: Collins Courts
Politicians shouldn’t have to accept sexist and derogatory comments against them, former tánaiste Joan Burton has said as she recounted the “horrific” personal abuse she received on social media during the Jobstown trial.
Speaking for the first time following a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to pursue further charges in the case, the former Labour party leader said in another era some of the language used against her would have been described as hate speech.
“It was so discriminatory and derogatory. It’s not healthy for the people writing that stuff, or those who happen upon what was posted.”
In an interview on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Ms Burton said Solidarity TD Paul Murphy had got a great deal of publicity from the trial but the people of Jobstown had to live with the notoriety attached to the name.
Mr Murphy was acquitted with five other people last June of falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her former advisor during the November 2014 protest.
She said some of the legal team for the defendants in the trial had suggested to her that as a politician the comments should have been “like water off a duck’s back”, but she had found the language “especially towards us as women” to be very distressing.
She was also upset about the posters “plastered” around Dublin before and during the trial, and found it interesting that complaints about the manner in which the jury was chosen disappeared once a verdict “that they liked” was reached.
The trolling on social media had been “just horrific” she added.
This week it was confirmed that the DPP had decided not to pursue charges against 11 other people due to stand trial over the alleged false imprisonment of her and her former assistant Karen O’Connell.
Ms Burton pointed out that she did not have anything to do with the DPP’s decision to press charges, or the nature of the charges.
“Nobody ever spoke to me, at all, except closer to the trial when I got the summons.
“It was not an option not to appear. I had to appear. The gardaí asked Karen and I to make statements, that was the extent of my involvement. I was only in court on the days I was giving evidence.”
She said she found the Garda Liaison officer very helpful and the victim support unit in the courthouse in Parkgate Street was a place where she and her family could have a cup of tea.
“I don’t know if I could have done it without their help. That unit provided a place where they could come with me. The case took a terrible toll on my family and friends.”
Questions during the trial about what she had been doing in 1968 had distressed her as her mother was ill with cancer that year while she was a scholarship student in UCD with a part time job in Dunnes Stores.
“In a way I got strength from that. It was like she was back with me.
“I did ask the judge if I had to answer that. There were also questions about the value of AIB shares and what happened to AIB.”
“People without my resilience would have found it difficult with no one other than Victim Support to help them.”
Ms Burton said she was relieved that following the tense events of the day of the protest that there had been no injuries among gardaí, protestors and especially children.
It had been a very difficult experience, she added. “It was certainly an experience I wouldn’t like anyone to go through.
“For myself and Karen those three hours, in two cars with the crowd banging on the car, will remain with us.”
Any investigation into the manner in which the DPP handled the case was a matter for the DPP, she said.
In relation to queries about the manner in which gardaí handled the protest on the day, she replied “I was in the back of a car for three hours all I could see was either side of me.
“I’ve lived all over the world, including Africa and the Irish have a way of friendly policing. They say: ‘Are you finished now? Why don’t you head on home’? I have heard that in France or Germany the police would have waded in.
“We don’t do that kind of policing here.
“It was a very tense event. I’m pleased that everyone got out with no injuries.”