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Thursday 23 November 2017

'You are not a victim', Leo tells Murphy in fiery Dail exchange

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mayor of Fingal, Cllr. Mary McCamley and Chief Executive of Fingal County Council, Paul Reid were at the launch the Creative Ireland Fingal Programme in Swords Castle
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mayor of Fingal, Cllr. Mary McCamley and Chief Executive of Fingal County Council, Paul Reid were at the launch the Creative Ireland Fingal Programme in Swords Castle

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy used Dail privilege to claim gardai conspired to commit perjury in the trial of six people accused of falsely imprisoning former Tanaiste Joan Burton.

In an extraordinary series of exchanges, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Dublin South-West TD - who was one of the defendants acquitted late last month - was "quite threatening" in his contributions.

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.

Virulence

"For those of us who have seen some of the coverage, 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 of somebody who believes in democracy and unbecoming of anybody who has any respect for other human beings."

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 Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail, who warned that the Dail cannot be used to review the outcome of court cases.

In her charge to the jury during the Jobstown protest 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 gardai 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," he said.

"The Taoiseach has to decide what all of that means. I think it means that numerous gardai lied under oath in a co-ordinated way. I think that implies an agreement to commit perjury."

As junior minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor and others shouted about the fact children witnessed the November 2014 protest, 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.

Consequences

"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," he added.

"Now politicians, not courts, have to deal with the consequences."

Mr Varadkar then hit back by 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 of our democracy."

The transcript of Mr Murphy's Dail contributions are to be reviewed after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin raised questions about deputies' entitlement to use privilege to state that people lied in court.

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

The row came about after Ms Burton broke her silence about the controversy, saying it was an "enormous achievement" by gardai to get everybody away from the protest without injury.

In her first comments since the trial, Ms Burton praised gardai for showing restraint during the water charges protest.

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