Monday 19 March 2018

Burton's fears over social media

Former tánaiste Joan Burton Photo: Collins Courts
Former tánaiste Joan Burton Photo: Collins Courts

Philip Ryan and Wayne O'Connor

Former tanaiste Joan Burton is understood to have serious concerns about the impact of the "horrific social media assault" by far-left political figures during the Jobstown trial, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Ms Burton has refused to speak publicly on the outcome of the trial, which found Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and five others not guilty of falsely imprisoning the former Labour Party leader and her adviser Karen O'Connell.

However, well-placed sources told the Sunday Independent that Ms Burton was deeply concerned about the "extraordinarily intense and vicious" social media campaign run by Mr Murphy's supporters throughout the nine-week trial.

Ms Burton told associates she was concerned that the jury in the trial could have been influenced by the hard left's "social media assault".

"It was extraordinarily intimidating and a lot of ordinary people would find it extraordinarily difficult to take," the sources said.

One Labour Party source added that the trial might set precedents that could have "enormous implications for justice" in this country.

The source said it was "very hard to see" how younger people on the jury would not have an "awareness of social media and possibly be extremely attached to it".

"Of course, there are a lot of people who don't believe the social media stuff but equally, there are probably people who do believe it," the Labour source added.

The senior Labour source praised all jurors who "paid a great deal of attention to the evidence" throughout the trial and also paid tribute to gardai who protected Ms Burton during the Jobstown incident.

Read more: Joan Burton was 'terrorised' at Jobstown protest, says Taoiseach

"People have lost sight of the way the gardai policed the protest and there was no injuries to anybody," the source said. "Partly because they had a megaphone, they attracted in small children, 11 and 10-year-olds at most, even younger. There were four or five of them milling around. Any move by the police was potentially very risky."

Ms Burton has been forced to remove all social media accounts from her phone and has instructed staff members to manage her online profile because of non-stop personalised attacks.

The outcome of the Jobstown trial is the subject of an internal review by gardai. Last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar publicly called for Garda management to examine testimony given by officers that conflicted with video evidence.

"We need to be able to trust that when the gardai stand up in court and they say something happened that it did happen and it shouldn't conflict with video evidence and if it does then that is a problem," he said.

Mr Varadkar's comments shocked some of his Fine Gael colleagues.

However, others said it showed that the new Taoiseach would not automatically weigh in behind the scandal- engulfed police force every time a controversy arose.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin suggested that the Taoiseach's comments could prejudice future cases linked to the Jobstown demonstration.

However, Tanaiste and Jobs Minister Frances Fitzgerald weighed in behind Mr Varadkar last night, insisting he was "reflecting" the view of the public.

"What I believe the citizens of this country want to see is a professional police force, the highest standards, absolute probity and that is what the Taoiseach was reflecting in his comments." Ms Fitzgerald told the Sunday Independent.

"Obviously we will wait and see the results of the review now in relation to that and whatever internal work the Garda are doing in relation to that."

Read more: Varadkar may have prejudiced future trials, says Martin

Sunday Independent

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