Monday 26 February 2018

Joan Burton was 'terrorised' at Jobstown protest, says Taoiseach

Joan Burton Picture: Tom Burke
Joan Burton Picture: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Former tánaiste Joan Burton and her adviser were "terrorised" during the Jobstown water protest, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, as he rejected calls for an inquiry.

"I think you can see the fear in their faces when you look at the coverage," he said.

Mr Varadkar made the remarks as he rejected a call from Solidarity TD Paul Murphy to set up an inquiry into the Garda investigation of the protest.

Mr Murphy was last week found not guilty of false imprisonment in relation to the water charge protest that took place in 2014 and said he hadn't been in the Dáil for 10 weeks due to the court case.

He argued that the case - where all six defendants were acquitted - had "very serious ramifications" for those who might exercise their right to protest.

He asked Mr Varadkar whether he would bring forward legislation to establish a public inquiry into the Garda investigation and what he claimed was "the clear evidence of conspiracy to stitch up protesters for false imprisonment".

Mr Murphy said there had been an attempt to "laugh at the notion of a conspiracy".

He added: "A conspiracy is a secret plan by a group of people to do something unlawful or harmful" He claimed evidence given by three gardaí during the trial was an example of this.

He said they told the court under oath that during the protest Mr Murphy had said: "Will we keep her here all night?".

"I said no such thing," Mr Murphy added, saying: "You can talk about frailty of human memory for one, maybe even for two, but for three guards to say and hear a thing that simply didn't happen?"

Leas-Cheann Comhairle Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher warned Mr Murphy that the Dáil was "not a court" and asked Mr Varadkar to answer the question about legislation to establish an inquiry.

Mr Varadkar said: "The Government doesn't have any proposals to bring forward legislation for a public inquiry on this issue.

"It appears to me that Deputy Murphy and his co-defendants got a fair trial. The jury heard the case. They heard both sides of the case and all the evidence and they decided to acquit. But I don't think that means that the behaviour that we saw in Jobstown was decent or acceptable.

"I think that the way that Deputy Burton and [adviser] Karen O'Connell were treated was very wrong. I think they were terrorised. I think you can see the fear in their faces."

Earlier, Mr Murphy claimed a proposal by Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan that contempt of court rules should be strengthened to curb social media comments during criminal trials was "nonsense".

Ms Madigan has said she was concerned over some of the online commentary surrounding the Jobstown trial, though she said her move was not just motivated by that case. She said the same restrictions that apply to the media should be in force for social media.

Mr Murphy argued that the same rules do currently apply and insisted "we didn't break any contempt of court rules". He said that Solidarity reported only on issues that were raised in front of the jury.

Meanwhile, Mr Murphy said he was supporting an appeal by a teenager who was last year found guilty of false imprisonment in relation to the Jobstown incident.

The youth was 15 at the time of the protest.

Mr Murphy said: "I think it's utterly absurd that this 15-year-old criminal mastermind falsely imprisoned the tánaiste. We'll be supporting his appeal."

Irish Independent

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