herald

Wednesday 26 July 2017

'I felt that I was running for my life,' Burton tells court

Former tanaiste Joan Burton arrives at court to give evidence. Photo: Collins Courts
Former tanaiste Joan Burton arrives at court to give evidence. Photo: Collins Courts

Former tanaiste Joan Burton felt "terrified" and as if she was "running for her life" as she fled anti-water charges protesters after a graduation ceremony, a court has heard.

The former Labour Party leader told a court angry protesters called her a "bitch" and "c***" while she and her special adviser Karen O'Connell were trapped in two garda vehicles.

Ms Burton said she eventually escaped following a three- hour ordeal by jumping out of a garda Jeep and running up a hill to a waiting garda car while protesters chased after her.

"To be honest, I felt I was running for my life," she told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

The Dublin West TD also told prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC that she saw Solidarity TD Paul Murphy holding a megaphone and "looking pretty happy with himself" as she and Ms O'Connell were stuck inside a garda car.

Mr Murphy (34) and six other men, including South Dublin county councillors Michael Murphy (53) and Kieran Mahon (39), deny falsely imprisoning the two women at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght, Dublin, on November 15, 2014.

During sometimes emotional evidence, Ms Burton described being terrified, afraid, menaced and worried during the events that unfolded that day as she attended a graduation ceremony at the An Cosan further education centre in Jobstown.

Judge Melanie Greally heard there was considerable opposition to water charges at the time and significant numbers of people had taken part in nationwide demonstrations.

Ms Burton said she saw a small group of people in the distance holding posters as she arrived at An Cosan.

After meeting graduates and organisers, Ms Burton took part in a graduation procession to the nearby Catholic church.

As she walked along near the back of the procession a number of protesters "crowded around", including a man who put a camera phone up to her face.

Defendants in the Jobstown trial (Males from left) Kieran Mahon, Michael Banks, Frank Donaghy, Paul Murphy TD, Scott Masterson and Michael Murphy arrive at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where they appeared on charges of the false imprisonment of then Tanaiste Joan Burton at a water protest in Jobstown in 2014. Photo: Collins Courts
Defendants in the Jobstown trial (Males from left) Kieran Mahon, Michael Banks, Frank Donaghy, Paul Murphy TD, Scott Masterson and Michael Murphy arrive at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where they appeared on charges of the false imprisonment of then Tanaiste Joan Burton at a water protest in Jobstown in 2014. Photo: Collins Courts

Banging

People shouted "shame on you" and despite being shielded on either side by a man and a garda, Ms Burton said she was struck on the back of the head first by "something like a ball" and then "a water bomb", which drenched her hair and jacket.

When they reached the church, Ms O'Connell gave Ms Burton her jacket and she dried her hair as best she could before giving a speech to congratulate the graduates.

By this stage gardai were growing concerned about the crowd gathering outside and advised her to leave straight away in an unmarked garda car.

Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell ran out of a side door and got into the back of the car, but it could not drive away as it was immediately surrounded.

"There was a great deal of noise and also banging on the car," Ms Burton said.

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

Asked by Mr Gillane SC what people were shouting, Ms Burton said: "People were shouting the usual stuff - bitch and c***.

"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."

The TD described the banging as "very disturbing" and "extremely intense".

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."

She said she couldn't hear 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."

They were stuck in the car for around an hour before being moved through a human cordon set up by gardai to a garda Jeep.

"At that stage it was very terrifying because the crowd surged," Ms Burton said.

As she moved towards the Jeep flanked by gardai she was worried she might fall as one of her shoes came loose, she said.

When they made it to the Jeep it too was blocked and had to move "inch by inch" out of the car park and towards the N81 Blessington Road.

Bottles

Ms Burton said the shouting and derogatory name calling continued.

Eggs, bottles and other items were pelted at the vehicle and the windscreen "shattered" on the left-hand side.

Eventually the Jeep managed to pull onto the N81. Prompted by gardai, the two women jumped out and ran to separate waiting cars.

"The crowd was after us," said Ms Burton. "To be honest, I just legged it as fast as I could.

"I was very cold and stiff after three hours in the cars. I don't know how I got the energy but I ran as fast as I could."

Ms Burton made it to the car and it sped away from the scene.

Under cross examination by Mr Murphy's counsel, Sean Guerin SC, Ms Burton accepted that considerable numbers of people were opposed to plans to introduce water charges.

Mr Guerin put it to her that water charges had been "a lightning rod" for people dissatisfied with austerity.

Ms Burton's cross examination will continue today.

As well as the three politicians, four other men face charges. They are 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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