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Attempt to jail Irish Water protesters who breach exclusion zone adjourned

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First Irish Water Meter installed in Maynooth

First Irish Water Meter installed in Maynooth

Colm Mahady / Fennells

First Irish Water Meter installed in Maynooth

A motion to fine four anti-water charge protesters or commit them to prison for allegedly breaching a 20 metre exclusion zone around contractors installing water metres has been adjourned by the High Court.

A judge had granted orders to a company establishing the exclusion zone around locations where its workers installing water meters in the Dublin City area are engaged.

Meter installation contractor, GMC Sierra Ltd, which has a contract to installing meters at various locations in Dublin had in early October secured injunctions preventing a number of individuals or anyone who had notice of the order from assaulting, intimidating or interfering with workmen installing water meters.

The company secured the orders after its lawyers told the High Court that its workers had been harassed and threatened while they were installing meters in the Dublin 5 and Dublin 13 areas.

In the High Court today  lawyers for GMC Sierra moved contempt of court proceedings against a number of protesters on grounds that they allegedly breached the court's order of November 5 2014 - the "20 metre order".

Barrister Jim O'Callaghan SC, for GMC Sierra, said breaches of the orders have continued and a guarantee that future protests would be conducted peacefully was of no comfort to his client.

Mr O'Callaghan read into the record portions of an affidavit by an operations manager for GMC Sierra. It stated that in the days and weeks following November 5 2014, GMC Sierra had planned to install some 500 water meters in areas around Dublin but only some 200 were installed.

A worker was allegedly struck by a van, a known protester “kneed a worker in the face” and protesters breached the 20 metre safety zone, the affidavit alleged.

A number of people present in court made remarks to the effect that these allegations were untrue and Mr Justice Gilligan said if there was another outburst of that nature he would clear the court.

The judge said there was evidence before the court that there had been breaches by four individuals of that order – that the 20 metre zone had been breached - and the court noted their failure to give an undertaking not to breach the order.

Mr Justice Gilligan said he accepted that four of the respondents had to be given the opportunity to submit replying affidavits to put in their version of events.

He said the four respondents should also be given an opportunity to apply for leave to cross examine GMC Sierra workers on their statements of allegations.

Mr Justice Gilligan said he would “reluctantly” accede to adjourn the attachment and committal motion by lawyers GMC Sierra until next Monday.

He adjourned the motion arising out of the previous orders for mention next Monday adding that it was appropriate to deal with the more serious issue of the alleged contempt of court arising out of the November 5 order.

Mr Justice Gilligan said he was deposed to granting an adjournment until after December 9 when President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, will deal with legal aid proceedings brought by a number of other respondents.

The final issue Mr Justice Gilligan dealt with was Mr O'Callaghan's request to get a direction from the court on how An Garda Síochána could enforce the order of November 5. He said he would prefer to hear from an representative of the Garda Commissioner prior to making any such order in that regard and he put that matter back to Monday also to allow the Commissioner to express her views.

Mr O'Higgins had also asked the court for an adjournment until proceedings to grant legal aid to a number of respondents was heard before President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns.

When deprivation of liberty was at stake, Mr O'Higgins said, the interests of justice called for free legal aid. He said he accepted that attachment proceedings are accepted as civil proceedings, however, the dictacts of justice required that the committal proceedings be postponed until the legal aid proceedings have been heard.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns had fixed as early a date as possible for those proceedings, on December 9 of this year, the court heard.

Naturally there was a public interest in this court being given respect in policing its own orders, Mr O'Higgins said. Proper regard should also be given to the complainant's rights but they don't trump the important constitutional rights which are at stake, he said.

Before the court rose Mr O'Higgins said his clients had voiced concerns to him that they had been vilified by the press and this was compounded by the decision to transfer today's (WEDNESDAY) proceedings to the Criminal Courts of Justice. “It is an invitation to treat them as criminals and they are not,” Mr O'Higgins said.

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