Saturday 21 April 2018

'You're not a victim here' - Taoiseach in explosive row in Dáil after allegations of garda conspiracy

'You are not a victim here. You are not the victim of any conspiracy. You got a fair trial' - Varadkar and Murphy's explosive Dáil row

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Paul Murphy TD
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and Paul Murphy TD
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

SOLIDARITY TD Paul Murphy has used Dáil privilege to claim Gardaí conspired to commit perjury in the trial of six people accused of falsely imprisoning former Tánaiste Joan Burton.

In an extraordinary series of Dáil exchanges Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Dublin South West TD was “quite threatening” in his contributions across the chamber.

The Taoiseach rejected calls for a public inquiry into the evidence given during the nine week trial, telling Mr Murphy: “You are not a victim here. You are not the victim of any conspiracy. You got a fair trial. You were acquitted but that doesn’t mean your behaviour was right.”

Cheered on by his Fine Gael colleagues and some TDs from other parties, an unscripted Mr Varadkar said: “It may well be the case that you were not involved in kidnapping but it was thuggery and your behaviour was wrong. The protest was ugly, it was violent, it was nasty.

“For those of us who have seen some of the coverage of it that was broadcast on television the anger, the virulence, the words that were directed at two women going about their work, a water balloon being thrown in somebody’s face.

“All of those things are unbecoming of a member of this House. Unbecoming from somebody who believes in democracy and unbecoming of anybody who has any respect for other human beings.”

And Mr Varadkar called on Mr Murphy to stop trying to present himself as a victim and instead "offer an apology to Deputy Burton".

Mr Murphy was cautioned several times by the Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail who warned that the Dáil cannot be used to review the outcome of court trials.

In her charge to the jury during the trial, Judge Melanie Greally noted there were discrepancies between some of the Garda evidence and video footage. She advised that the footage be treated as the principal evidence, as it was not subject to “human frailties”.

Mr Murphy said three gardaí told the court that he had asked protesters whether they should keep Ms Burton in Jobstown all night but this wasn’t backed up by the video evidence.

“Something very serious happened in court and there is a public interest in a public inquiry.

“The Taoiseach has to decide what all of that means. I think it means that numerous gardaí lied under oath in a coordinated way. I think that applies an agreement to commit perjury,” he said.

As junior minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor and others shouted about the fact that children were witnesses to the protest in November 2014, Mr Murphy replied: “It might pain you all or at least lots of you that the jury heard the evidence and found us not guilty. I’m sorry but that’s the way it works.

“This started with a Labour minister a few hours after the protest saying it was false imprisonment. It was followed by the Taoiseach saying it was kidnapping. It was followed by the now Taoiseach saying it was thuggery.

“Now politicians, not courts, have to deal with the consequences,” he said.

Mr Varadkar then hit back, saying: “Not only do you owe Deputy Burton and Ms O’Connell an apology. You also should give a public apology to all of the people who you led.

“We saw you on the loudhailer. Particularly the young people and minors who should not have been led in that sort of protest that is unbecoming our democracy,” he said.

The transcript of Mr Murphy’s Dáil contributions are to be reviewed after Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised questions about a deputy’s entitlement to use privilege to state that people lied in court evidence.

He said if it was allowed to stand it would set “a precedent that opens up all sorts of new horizons”.

The row came after Ms Burton said it was an “enormous achievement” by Gardaí to get everybody away from the Jobstown protest without injury.

In her first comments since the court case, Ms Burton praised the gardaí on-duty during the water charges protest for showing restraint.

“It’s very important in terms of the work that Gardaí do that they got everybody out of that particular event without any injury to anybody,” she said.

“I think in terms of restrained, traditional policing it was an enormous achievement of the Gardaí. Particularly in a situation where there were small children mixed in with the people who were involved in the demonstration.”

Mr Murphy and his co-accused were cleared after an eight week trial which heard that Ms Burton and her assistant Karen O’Connell were trapped for three hours during the protest in November 15.

The Dublin South West TD has since called for a public inquiry into evidence given by gardaí during the trial after the judge told the jury to rely on video evidence rather than their testimony.

Speaking at Leinster House today, Ms Burton said she doesn’t intend to make any public statements on the trial.

“I haven’t, for instance, as I think is routine for people who have been part of the witnesses at a trial, I haven’t heard anything from the Office of the DPP.

“Clearly that office is the office which independently is responsible for prosecutions. We just haven’t heard anything. Until we get greater clarity on that I won’t be saying anything,” she said.

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