Friday 28 October 2016

'I worried what will happen if they manage to open the car doors' - Joan Burton tells case against teen

Tom Tuite

Published 19/09/2016 | 13:47

Protesters during the trial of a 17-year-old for false imprisonment at The Childrens Court in Smithfield, Dublin and inset Joan Burton
Protesters during the trial of a 17-year-old for false imprisonment at The Childrens Court in Smithfield, Dublin and inset Joan Burton

FORMER Tanaiste Joan Burton has told a court she was frightened and did not think she had the alternative of being able to get out of a Garda car surrounded by people shouting abuse during the Jobstown water protest.

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She was giving evidence on day 1 of the trial of a Dublin youth (17) accused of falsely imprisoning her and her advisor Karen O'Connell during the demonstration at the Fortunestown Road in Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin, on Nov. 15, 2014.

The teen was aged 15 at the time and is being tried before Judge John King at the Dublin Children's Court. He denies the charges.

The prosecution alleges that the Tanaiste and her entourage were trapped for about three hours after they had attended a graduation ceremony at the An Cosan education centre.

The former Labour leader and Minister for Social Protection told prosecuting counsel Tony McGillicuddy that she arrived at about 11.30 am for the ceremony. She said now Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, and former Minister Kevin Humprhies as well as several academics were also there.

She described the graduation ceremony as having a “happy atmosphere” and she was given a warm welcome. The Dublin west TD said she had a lot of connections with the An Cosan centre because it promoted adult education.

She said that when she arrived she noticed some protesters. A young male in a clean blue tracksuit was holding a phone close to her face trying to take a photo and saying “Talk to us Joan”, she said.

The defence said that she was referring to the youth who was accompanied to the court by his mother and his legal team. The teen cannot be named because he is a minor.

Ms Burton said that she went to a nearby church for the second part of the ceremony. She walked with her entourage as well as the graduates, academics and others involved with An Cosan.

She alleged that she was hit twice with water balloons, adding that it hurt and her clothes were wet. She said the crowd was pushing and she felt it surge and she described them as “very wild”. She said that is when the hassle started.

Her advisor Karen O'Connell gave her a jacket to wear for the remainder of the ceremony.

After she made her speech at the church she was advised by a garda that she would have to leave.

She said she made haste to a garda car. She sat in the back with Ms O'Connell and she said there was a lot of noise and offensive language. Ms O'Connell was upset and she put her arms around her, the court was told.

There was a large number of children present and she was concerned about them, Ms Burton said. She said some of the protesters were banging on the windows.

She also said the teenager was standing beside the car.

She said that there was a lot of vulgar abuse and she was called a “fucking c**t and stuff like that”. She said she was annoyed that the graduation was disrupted.

One person behind the car had a megaphone and she said that at this point she wanted to be able to leave as early as possible.

She said she feared what would happen if they got the car door open.

Gardai moved her to a second vehicle, a jeep. She said the officers were around her like a screen and the crowd was pushing. She said they were very aggressive and there was a lot of pushing.

Plastic bottles and eggs were being thrown she said.

She said that when she reached the Garda jeep she flung herself into the back seat. She felt “menaced” and added “I worried what will happen if they manage to open the car doors”. She said protesters continued banging on the roof and doors and shouting abuse.

She said she was very frightened and comforted Ms O'Connell. “She was a little upset and to be honest I put my arm around her and and said 'we'll be fine',” she said.

When she was being moved to that car she had worried that she would not be able to run because she lost her shoe and she felt she was losing her footing.

There were more protesters around and the jeep moved off slowly. After what seemed a long time, she was transferred to another garda vehicle which rushed her away, she said. She was taken to Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park.

In cross-examination Giollaoisa O Lideadha SC, defending, put it to her that gardai made an operational decision to progress the situation. “Are you suggesting I had an alternative, of leaving the car? Because I don't think I had,” she replied.

Deputy Bruton said she made a statement to gardai but had no knowledge of what charges would be brought. She denied that she hoped the event would be damaging to other or how she would present it for political purposes.

She agreed it was a protest which she said people were free to do but she added that “there were features of it which were extremely difficult for myself and other occupants of the car”.

The protest lasted for about three and a half hours, the court heard.

Her former advisor Karen O'Connell told the court that she was crying and in a state of shock.

“I was very upset, I was hyper-ventilating, I felt very unsafe, I felt very distressed,” she said. People were using horrible language, she said.

She also said that during the walk from An Cosan to the church she was struck on her back.

She said they were surrounded and in the first car for about 45 minutes to an hour and could not move. The car was being shaken and it was a very frightening experience, she said. People were “sitting on the car behind us, the car could not move and we were frightened, we weren't in a position to get out of the car, they were screaming profanities at his, I did not feel safe, I did not feel I could leave.

When they were being moved to the jeep she heard someone say “Get the c**ts, there they go”. She stumbled and they were bundled into the jeep, she said.

She also said that as the situation escalated the number of protesters increased. A garda public order unit also came in riot gear and an agreement was made that the protesters could slow march out in front of the jeep, the court was told.

Short video clips taken by Deputy Burton and Ms O'Connell on their phones were also shown in court. Ms O'Connell also said demonstrators shouted at them that they hoped she and the former Tanaiste would die.

She also alleged she saw a woman garda getting struck after an open can of beans was thrown at her.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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