Friday 21 July 2017

Joan Burton advisor denies she 'exaggerated' her fear during Jobstown water protest

Labour TD Joan Burton arrives at court. Photo: Collins
Labour TD Joan Burton arrives at court. Photo: Collins

Andrew Phelan

FORMER Tanaiste Joan Burton’s advisor has denied that she “exaggerated” how fearful she was during the water protest in Jobstown.

Karen O'Connell admitted she was heard on video laughing in the back of a car in which she was allegedly falsely imprisoned, but said this was a “human reaction” to a nervous, tense situation.

Ms O’Connell insisted she was “panicked”, crying and “petrified” during the protest as footage she had taken on her phone was played back in court.

She also said she saw a distinct difference between Shell 2 Sea protests in which access was blocked to construction sites and garages and the Jobstown protest, when she was “held against her will.”

Ms O’Connell was giving evidence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in the trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, south Dublin councillors Michael Murphy and Kieran Mahon and four other men, who all deny falsely imprisoning her and former Tanaiste Joan Burton.

The pair were allegedly imprisoned in cars at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght on November 15, 2014 after attending an adult education graduation ceremony.

Ms O’Connell, told Padraig Dwyer SC, for one of the accused, Frank Donaghy that she had been involved in Shell 2 Sea demonstrations while she was a student in UCD. She had been to protests in Rossport and was aware trucks were prevented from accessing construction sites.

She said she had been involved in “blockades” at Donnybrook garage in which access was blocked to motorists.

Karen O’Connell. Photo: Collins
Karen O’Connell. Photo: Collins

Ms O’Connell said she supported the peaceful elements of a campaign that involved many different organisations.

She said she believed in peaceful protest and there was a distinct difference between preventing vehicles from accessing sites and “being held against your will and made to stay in a very very unpleasant situation.”

Ms O'Connell said those protests never deprived anybody of their liberty.

Mr Dwyer put it to Ms O’Connell that her evidence about being “petrified” in the car was “exaggerrated.” He played back video clips which he said portrayed a “relaxed, jovial atmosphere” and one of “boredom.”

In the first clip, from Ms O’Connell’s own phone, he put it to her that a man was seen beginning to record her “in response” to her filming.

Laughing was audible in the car and she accepted this was her.

“People often laugh in nervous, tense situations,” she said. “It’s a human reaction.”

Mr Dwyer said the atmosphere was not one of “huge fear” but had “some joking, some hilarity.”

Ms Burton was heard on the clip saying “they have been doing that apparently since about 12 o’clock, so there will be people up for the fun as it were.”

Footage taken on Ms Burton’s own phone was then played and Mr Dwyer said the atmosphere in this again appeared to be calm, Mr Dwyer said.

When a garda in the helicopter was heard on the radio making suggestions about moving back, both Ms O’Connell and Ms Burton were heard laughing and Ms Burton said “you must be joking.”

Ms O’Connell said she was afraid and did not agree the atmosphere in the clip did not “reflect any great fear.”

Ms O’Connell was heard on the video saying: “This always happens and the end of the protest, the f***ing dregs decide not to finish it.”

This was the point at which it had been agreed that the car would be “slow marched” out of Tallaght but was still having difficulty moving.

Mr Dwyer asked her about her movement up through the “echelons” of the Labour Party and said the party “claims to represent” the unemployed marginalised and weaker members of society. He asked her what her definition of “dregs” was.

She said her language had been “awful” and it was near the end of a three and a half hour ordeal. Her understanding of the word “dregs” was that it meant the protesters would not finish. 

The word meant the end of something - such as the dregs of a drink or a cigarette, she said.

“I was very very fearful and I was very upset at that time,” she said.

“You were relaxed and rather contemptuous of the people who were slow walking the vehicle,” Mr Dwyer said, adding this could only have been her motivation in using the word “dregs.”

“That is your opinion,” Ms O’Connell replied.

The trial continues on Monday before a jury and Judge Melanie Greally

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