Belfast Telegraph

Politician cleared of false imprisonment says trial bid to criminalise protest

A politician cleared of falsely imprisoning the former deputy prime minister during a water charge demonstration has claimed his trial was an attempt to criminalise popular protest.

Solidarity's Paul Murphy and five others were found not guilty of restricting the personal liberty of ex-tanaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton and her then assistant Karen O'Connell on November 15 2014, at Fortunestown Road in Jobstown, Dublin.

Mr Murphy, two other county councillors from the same left-wing party and three other men all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

They were acquitted by a jury after an eight-week trial.

The group said outside the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin they felt vindicated and were walking away as "protesters, not kidnappers".

"This was a politically driven investigation vindictively designed to punish those who fought against water charges and wounded the political vanity of Joan Burton," they said.

"It was an attempt to criminalise the largest movement of people power in decades, by presenting sit-down protests as false imprisonment."

Ms Burton was leaving an adult graduation event in Jobstown, south west Dublin, when she was heckled by protesters opposed to water charges being introduced on the back of government-imposed austerity measures.

Along with her adviser Ms O'Connell, the then Labour leader was placed in a Garda car which was subsequently surrounded by demonstrators for a number of hours.

Ms Burton, whose party was the junior partner in a coalition government with Fine Gael at the time, claimed she was trapped in the car for up to three hours.

Mr Murphy was arrested at dawn at his home three months after the incident. Dozens more were detained.

In the non-jury Children's Court in Dublin last year, a schoolboy was found guilty of the false imprisonment of Ms Burton during the protest. He was discharged conditionally on good behaviour for nine months.

After being acquitted, Mr Murphy, a former MEP and a serving TD, called the conviction into question and said no other prosecutions should be brought over the Jobstown protest.

A rally is planned for Dublin city centre in support of others this Saturday.

Mr Murphy said files on the case which were sent by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions were "rubbish".

"You saw Garda witness after Garda witness have their testimony shredded by our defence counsel," he said.

"In the course of the next 24 hours we will have more to say about the implications of this trial for the political establishment and for the development of a left challenge as well as the role of the gardai in this process."

The cleared men also accused large sections of the media of biased coverage and questioned whether some commentators will apologise.

They also questioned if the Labour Party would apologise for what they claimed was an attempt to "criminalise a working class community and protest".

Independent TD Joan Collins said the verdict was a victory for the ability to peacefully protest.

"The role of the Gardai again comes under scrutiny in this State given their actions in the policing on the day, investigation and trial," she said.

The Labour Party issued a statement saying it noted the verdict of the jury.

"The investigation of any criminal matter, and the conduct of any associated prosecution, is decided by An Garda Siochana and the law officers of the State who operate with complete independence from the political system," it said.

"As we have been all along, the Labour Party remains resolutely focused on our central tasks of holding the Government to account, and campaigning for decency, justice and equality in society."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, broke off from talks at Stormont, to declare the verdict as a victory for the right to protest.

"The charge of false imprisonment was clearly trumped up. There were charges with an obvious political purpose - to demonise water charges protesters," he said.

"The right to protest is a democratic and hard-won right. It cannot be brushed aside or diluted to suit a political agenda.

"This is good news for everybody who holds that right dear. I want to send my good wishes to the protesters and their families."

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