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'Political motive' over arrests: TD

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Paul Murphy has been arrested over a street demonstration last year against the introduction of water charges

Paul Murphy has been arrested over a street demonstration last year against the introduction of water charges

Paul Murphy has been arrested over a street demonstration last year against the introduction of water charges

An Irish parliamentarian arrested over the alleged false imprisonment of the country's deputy prime minister has claimed his "intimidating" detention was politically motivated to damage anti-austerity demonstrations.

Socialist TD Paul Murphy was released without charge after eight and half hours in custody following a wave of dawn arrests at the homes of three elected representatives and an activist in Dublin.

The former MEP said the "shocking experience" was designed to "criminalise" protest in Ireland against controversial new water charges introduced by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

Mr Murphy said he was questioned on suspicion of falsely imprisoning Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton during a protest at Tallaght in the south of the city last November.

Ms Burton has said she was trapped in her car for more than two hours when it was surrounded by protesters as she tried to leave a speaking engagement at a college graduation in the Jobstown area.

"It's complete nonsense, it's a complete fabrication," Mr Murphy told the Press Association after being released from Terenure Garda Station.

"If we were guilty of falsely imprisoning the Tanaiste, well then thousands of people down through the years are guilty of false imprisonment at various protests, whereby ministers have been impeded or farmers have blocked up streets or whereby sit-down protests have taken place."

Mr Murphy said he was well-treated during his detention, but criticised gardai (police) for not contacting him to arrange for him to attend a station for questioning.

"It was a bit of a shocking experience getting a call at your door at 7am, six gardai outside and spending eight and half hours in the garda station, four hours being questioned, in what is clearly a massive waste of garda resources," he said.

"It is clearly political policing designed to damage the anti-water charges movement."

He added: "I don't know the exact details of how it was decided to carry out these arrests. But I think there's no explanation as to why it was done at this stage except for there being a political motivation.

"There is clearly a political hand and a political mind at play here. That is without question."

Two Anti-Austerity Alliance councillors on South Dublin County Council, councillor Kieran Mahon and councillor Mick Murphy, were also arrested at their homes, as was another activist.

They were taken to separate garda stations around the city, where they were quizzed under section four of the Criminal Justice Act.

All four were later released without charge, according to the Garda Press Office.

Mr Murphy said around 24 gardai were involved in the four arrests.

Socialist TD Joe Higgins said it was "completely over the top" that elected representatives are "taken from their beds" in an early morning operation.

"This will outrage people right around the country," he said.

"Paul Murphy in particular told me he has never been approached by the gardai, asked for a statement, questioned, interviewed in any way whatsoever since the protests in Tallaght three months ago.

"So the question for me that the Labour Party has to answer in particular is why this type of heavy-handed political policing, how outrageous that is, at the same time that Labour Party TDs and Ministers routinely break the solemn promises they made to the electorate."

However, Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney rejected the claims of political policing.

"If someone is trapped in their car for a few hours because people are banging on the windows and kicking the doors, well then the guards will take action and I think that is what is happening here," he said.

"We have no interest in any further coverage for the kind of protests Paul Murphy was involved in.

"I can assure you this is the guards just doing their job and following up on an incident that may well have involved breaking the law."

Tens of thousands of people have been protesting in recent months over the introduction of water charges, the latest austerity levy imposed in Ireland since a spectacular economic crash seven years ago.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, senior Government ministers and even Irish President Michael D Higgins have been targeted by rowdy demonstrations during public engagements.

Originally, the Government signalled the water levy would be up to 600 euro a year for some families, but this was later changed to 60 euro for single adult homes and 160 euro for all other homes, a flat rate set for four years from January 1.

Critics claim it is a tax too much, does not encourage conservation and is unfair.

But the Government said it was necessary to update Ireland's chronically and historically under-invested public water system.

Controversy has also surrounded the setting up of Irish Water, the utility company that will administer and charge for water, with bonuses suspended at the company while a review is ordered into salaries.

Small protests were mounted outside a number of Garda stations where the arrested men, all aged between 30 and 50, were being held.