Wednesday 21 February 2018

'I felt I was running for my life' - Joan Burton tells trial of 'terrifying' ordeal during water charges protest

'TD Paul Murphy looked pretty happy with himself, I have to say. He was smiling very broadly. He was the man with the megaphone' - former Tánaiste tells court

Joan Burton Picture: Tom Burke
Joan Burton Picture: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Tánaiste Joan Burton has told a court she felt like she was running for her life as she fled anti-water charges protesters who surrounded her after a graduation ceremony.

In sometimes emotional testimony at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Ms Burton said she was called “bitch” and “c***” by angry protesters who trapped her and her special adviser Karen O’Connell in two garda vehicles for around three hours.

She told prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC how she eventually made her escape by jumping out of a garda jeep and running up a hill to a waiting garda car with a group of people chasing after her.

“To be honest I felt I was running for my life,” she said.

Ms Burton also told how she saw Solidarity TD Paul Murphy holding a megaphone and “looking pretty happy with himself” as she and Ms O’Connell were trapped inside a garda car.

She also described being terrified, afraid, menaced and worried during the ordeal.

The former Labour Party leader was giving evidence in the trial of Mr Murphy (34) and six other men.

The defendants all deny charges of falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin on November 15, 2014.

Ms Burton told the court she was invited to Jobstown to speak at a ceremony for around 60 graduates of the An Cosán further education centre, which was co-founded by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.

But she outlined how the event quickly turned sour when a group of protesters gathered and began jostling and directing verbal abuse in her direction.

After first going to the An Cosán building where she met graduates and organisers Ms Burton then took part in a graduates procession to the neighbouring Catholic church.

She told the court that as she walked along near the back of the procession “a number of protesters were crowding around” and “there was a bit of abuse going on that was typical of demonstrations”.

“They were shouting stuff. The most familiar was ‘shame on you’,” she said.

The former Tánaiste said one person “kept coming beside me and putting a camera phone in my face”.

She said the man, who wore a blue tracksuit, kept saying “Talk to us Joan” as he held the camera phone to her face.

Another man moved in beside her to shield her from the protester and a garda stood on her other side.

Ms Burton said that as she walked into the church she was struck on the back of the neck by “something like a ball”.

“Then I got hit on my neck again. It was a water bomb of some kind. I could feel the back of my hair and my top being drenched,” she said.

“I tried to regain my composure and keep on walking and going straight ahead.”

When they reached the church, Ms O’Connell gave her her jacket and she dried her hair as best she could with a tissue.

After speaking to congratulate the graduates there were discussions involving gardaí and it was decided she and Ms O’Connell should leave immediately in a waiting unmarked garda vehicle.

The two women left by a side door and ran towards the saloon car, getting into the back seat. Two gardaí were sat in the front.

“I was expecting we would be able to leave,” she said.

“But very quickly the car was surrounded.

“There was a great deal of noise and also banging on the car.

“From my point of view most worrying was that there was an awful lot of children around.”

Asked by Mr Gillane what was being shouted, Ms Burton said: “People were shouting the usual stuff. Bitch and c***.”

She continued: “They were being derogatory to me particularly and to Karen.”

Ms Burton said one woman at the side and back of the car “was beside herself with rage”.

“She was baying, wishing all sorts of stuff on me. Illness and death,” she said.

“Karen became extremely upset and started to cry,” said Ms Burton.

“The banging on the car was very disturbing and it was extremely intense and it lasted, I think we were in the car maybe for an hour, maybe an hour and a bit.”

Ms Burton said the garda driver could not move the car because of the presence of children around it.

“I was quite afraid and extremely menaced and very worried,” she said.

Ms Burton told Mr Gillane that at one point she saw Mr Murphy through the back window.

“He had a megaphone and he was speaking and using the megaphone. I couldn’t hear enormously distinctly (what he was saying).

“He looked pretty happy with himself, I have to say. He was smiling very broadly. He was the man with the megaphone.”

Ms Burton said a garda inspector told them they were to be moved to another vehicle and that when asked to move by gardaí they would have to do so immediately.

A group of gardaí formed two lines – described previously by Mr Gillane as “a human cordon” - holding back the protesters.

Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell were led through the centre of the cordon by the garda inspector.

“At that stage it was very terrifying because the crowd surged,” she said.

Mr Burton told how the inspector walked backwards in front of her, guiding her towards a garda jeep.

At this point one of her shoes came loose, but the inspector told her to keep moving if it fell off.

“Quite frankly I was terrified I was going to fall. I didn’t know what was going to happen with the crowd. It was very wild.

“To be honest, I certainly was terrified of the way the crowd was surging.”

They made it to the jeep, but it too was blocked in by protesters and had to move “inch by inch” out of the car park and towards the Blessington Road.

She said the same type of shouting and derogatory name calling continued.

Eggs, bottles and other items were pelted at the car and the front left windscreen was “shattered”.

Ms Burton said the jeep made “extremely slow progress” and they were in it “for a couple of hours”.

The plan was for the jeep to take a right turn at a junction near the Jobstown Inn and to head in the direction of Blessington.

But it had to turn left as the road was blocked.

Ms Burton said they were told they would have to move to another car shortly after the jeep managed to make the turn.

Prompted by gardaí she and Ms O’Connell jumped out and ran to separate waiting cars.

“The crowd was after us,” she said.

“To be honest I just legged it as fast as I could. I was very cold and stiff.

“I don’t know how I got the energy but I ran as fast as I could.”

Ms Burton made in to the car and it sped off into the Dublin Mountains before traveling on to Saggart and then the Phoenix Park, where she was able to clean herself up.

The former Tánaiste concluded direct evidence before lunch and is to be cross examined this afternoon.

Paul Murphy and his co-accused have denied charges of falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Ms O’Connell.

The other defendants are councillors Kieran Mahon (39) and Michael Murphy (53), and Tallaght residents Frank Donaghy (71) of Alpine Rise, Ken Purcell (50) of Kiltalown Green, Michael Banks (46) of Brookview Green and Scott Masterson (34) of Carrigmore Drive.

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