Thursday 21 September 2017

Jobstown trial: Joan Burton defends controversial comment about 'expensive phones'

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

Andrew Phelan

FORMER Tanaiste Joan Burton has defended controversial comments she made about protesters having "expensive phones."

The Dublin West TD denied that the comments she made in the Dail were intended to "undermine" water protesters by suggesting that they were trying to "manipulate the system."

She was being cross-examined this afternoon 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 at a protest in Jobstown, Tallaght.

The Dail remarks were made in October 2014, before that protest.

In the afternoon, Mr O’Higgins continued to cross-examine Ms Burton. He said in her statement to gardai there had not been one mention of water protesters.

Ms Burton said it had not been a political statement and she had just recounted what happened to her, as requested by the gardai. She was not asked anything about the politics of the occasion.

Mr O’Higgins put it to her that she had deliberately omitted this because she wanted to paint a picture to the gardai of a “disorganised rabble” and did not want to give the protesters “even a veneer of legitimacy.”

Ms Burton disagreed and said she had given her statement in good faith and honesty.

Mr O’Higgins asked her if she was a “reliable historian” in relation to what happened and if she “blanked out” some things that she heard.

He said if anyone had picked up her statement they would be “completely in the dark” that the protest was about water charges.

Mr O’Higgins asked why she had not heard chants being shouted such as “They say cutback, we say fight back” and she replied: “When people are banging on the roof, your hearing is limited.”

Earlier, Ms Burton said she noticed a woman outside the car wearing leopard-print pyjamas and a leather jacket, and this stood out for her as a “standout fashion moment.”

Mr O’Higgins said it was unreasonable that Mr Burton had remembered individual instances of profanity but not chanting. He said her account was “distorted and unfair.”

It put the protesters in a bad light by not acknowledging that they were water protesters, he said.

Mr O’Higgins then asked her about her answer to a Dail question by Joan Collins TD, in which she had said: “All the protesters I have seen seem to have extremely expensive phones, tablets and video cameras.”

He said it was an attempt to “impugn these people."

Ms Burton said she meant that if gardai acted wrongly in a demonstration "the evidence will be on the phones" and she thought this would be great protection for the citizen exercising their right to protest.

The word "expensive" meant the phones were better for filming purposes, she said.

“It implies if they can afford extremely expensive phones, as you perceive them to be, paying for water couldn’t be that much of a deal and these were people who were manipulating the system when they didn’t have a genuine complaint and it was your way of undermining the protesters,” Mr O’Higgins said.

“I don’t entertain those feelings at all,” she replied.

Mr O'Higgins then asked her about a video clip in which she was heard saying in the back of the car to her advisor Ms O’Connell “what you should do now is go on social media and say it was shameful all the little kids there and no one minding them or looking after them and they are just roaming the streets.”

Ms Burton said this had been in response to a poster about cuts to finding of the breakfast club programme which was not true.

She said it had not been sent out but then accepted that she did not know if this was the case as she had never followed up on it.

Mr O’Higgins said nevertheless her reaction had been to suggest putting out a tweet that “puts the children in a bad light and undermines the whole purpose of the breakfast club.”

Ms Burton said they seemed like “lovely little children” and her only concern was that she felt it was not a suitable place for them.

Her cross-examination continues on Thursday.

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