Monday 21 August 2017

'Emotional' Joan Burton asks jury to be sent out as footage of Jobstown water charge protest replayed in court

Former Tanaiste Joan Burton Photo: Collins Courts
Former Tanaiste Joan Burton Photo: Collins Courts

Andrew Phelan

FORMER Tanaiste Joan Burton became emotional and asked for the jury to be sent out when footage of the Jobstown water charge protest was replayed in court today.

The Dublin West Labour TD asked Judge Melanie Greally if she could view the video privately, saying: "It's very very distressing to me, what happened."

The jurors were asked to leave for a short time so Ms Burton could watch the clip, in which people were heard shouting "shame on you, you're a f***ing disgrace."

Ms Burton was in the witness box for a fourth day today in the trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, two south Dublin councillors and four other men, who all deny falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her advisor, Karen O’Connell.

Ms Burton was allegedly falsely imprisoned in cars for around three hours at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght on November 15, 2014.

Mr Murphy (34), is on trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court along with South Dublin councillors Kieran Mahon (39), Michael Murphy (53). The other four are Frank Donaghy (71) of Alpine Rise, Tallaght, Ken Purcell (50) of Kiltalown Green, Michael Banks (46) of Brookview Green and Scott Masterson (34) of Carrigmore Drive, all in Tallaght.

Today, Ms Burton also denied trying to “smear” water protesters by suggesting they were an “uncaring bunch” who let their children “roam the streets.”

She told the jury her mind was on safety rather than “strategic thinking” during a protest in Jobstown in which she was allegedly falsely imprisoned.

She was commenting on another video clip taken in the back of the car in which she was heard saying her advisor should put on social media that there were children there and it was shameful that they were not being minded.

The suggested tweet in question was never sent, the court heard.

Mr Burton was cross-examined this morning by Michael O’Higgins SC, representing Ken Purcell.

In the clip from the car, Ms Burton could be heard telling Ms O’Connell what she should do was go on social media and say there were children there and it was a shame they were not being looked after and were let roam free.

Ms Burton said her state of mind at the time was “very fragile and frightened” because she had already been through several very unpleasant episodes. She was worried about the children, but she was also “worried about ourselves” and what they would do if the door was opened.

“It was a moment in a very tense period of time and I was making conversation,” she said, but she would not have had a problem if Ms O’Connell had gone on social media to say there were children there.

She did not follow it up, saying “I would have left it to Karen whether or not she went on social media.”

Mr O’Higgins said her motivation for the suggestion was “to paint again a picture to people reading social media that this was an uncaring bunch of people who didn’t supervise their children and let them roam the streets.”

“I had no idea to whom these children belonged, I had no idea whether their parents were present,” Ms Burton replied.

She said she was only concerned that they did not seem to be supervised.

If Mr O’Higgins was suggesting that she had anger towards the protesters and thought what they were doing was wrong and bad, the answer was yes, she said, because she was very frightened.

She was also concerned about what “damage” could be caused to others if the car moved and “had all these ideas running through my mind in a very confused and noisy situation.”

“You are this out to smear in the public eye what was going on, you were misrepresenting it,” Mr O’Higgins said.

He told Ms Burton she “would say anything to gain what she perceived was a material advantage.”

She replied that her focus was on getting safely out of the car and seeing an end to the situation as quickly as possible.

She said it was being implied that she had “some big strategy” in her head, but what was in her head was safety.

Ms Burton said she was “not particularly” tech-savvy. She used an iPad and iPhone and had used social media quite a lot but found that particularly female politicians were subject to “very very denigratory” material on it.

Mr O’Higgins then read from a November 1, 2010 article in Hot Press in which she was quoted along with Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney TD about an RTE Morning Ireland interview with then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr Coveney had tweeted that Mr Cowen had seemed “half way between drunk and hungover” and the controversy gained a global audience and became known as “Twittergate.”

In the Hot Press article, she had supported Mr Coveney, Mr O’Higgins said. She was quoted as referring to “older people who wouldn’t be familiar with Twitter.”

“Is it a case where politicians see an advantage and they just take it?” he asked.

Ms Burton said she had been listening to the interview live on radio and people were remarking on Twitter that it had been a “disgraceful” performance.

Ms Burton told Mr O’Higgins she was a moderate social media user and would not use it as much as others.

She said “we are all aware of a master Twitter operator” and agreed she was talking about US President Donald Trump, and others.

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook had become a “very sad space and a very difficult space” so that people like her did not get involved in it as much as they might like to.

“There are people in my family who might regard me as a total IT and computer idiot,” she said.

Mr O’Higgins put it to her she had given an interview with Miriam O’Donoghue in the Sunday Independent in which she “slept with her iPad under her pillow.”

Ms Burton replied that she “did in the first year.” Ms O’Higgins said the Attorney General had told her “no texts before 7am”.

He also told Ms Burton she had 18,000 Twitter followers as of 48 hours ago.

He asked her how she could reconcile these things with her presentation of herself to the jury as a tech “idiot.”

She said people in her family might regard her this way.

When the jury returned, Mr O’Higgins said he apologised that the footage was distressing for Ms Burton and it had to be played.

He said the gardai were “quick stepping” Ms Burton in the video from one car to another.

He then asked for a YouTube video of the protest to be played. In it, Paul Murphy could be seen being held by gardai.

Mr Murphy had no top on in the video and people could be heard shouting to the gardai: “Get your hands off him, that’s a TD you are mishandling.”

There were also cries of “dirtbirds,” and “you started this, this was a peaceful protest till you started dragging people out of it.”

A garda was struck by a water bomb on the head and another protester shouted: “Stand firm everyone.”

Mr O’Higgins put it to Ms Burton that “that was Paul Murphy.”

“If you can identify him to me, I haven’t seen him with his clothes off before,” she replied.

Her answer was greeted with laughter throughout the courtroom and one man in the public gallery was heard to say: “I wouldn’t know about that.”

A garda called for quiet in the court and Mr O’Higgins continued, putting it to Ms Burton that they had seen protesters at the front of the car being removed.

“Well, it’s protesters,” she said.

Mr O’Higgins said there were two sides to every story and asked Ms Burton of she agreed.

She replied that she had not been able to leave the car or use the public road and she felt quite frightened a lot of the time.

Mr O’Higgins said they had seen protesters sittings down and being forcibly removed in a “chaotic” way and this side of the story had not been described in the evidence.

“Mr Murphy like myself has the honour to be a member of Dail Eireann and in this democracy we have freedom to vote, to speak and to protest, and as I have said, I believe in the right to peaceful protest,” she said. “Mr Murphy is one of a very elite group of people who have the right to speak in the Dail.... elected representatives of the people have quite a number of different opportunities to speak.”

Ms Burton told Sean Gillane, SC prosecuting, that she had never experienced anything like the events of the protest before.

“In your experience, is being called a b**ch and a c**t part of political discourse?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “In fact, as I think I have said in a lot of media interviews, I find in general people are very kind to me and most people are very polite, particularly people like me who are working class people from working class backgrounds.”

The trial continues.

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