Class War, Corruption and the Criminalising of Dissent in Ireland

What makes the fate of a group of working class Dublin protesters so important that Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Yanis Varoufakis have all spoken in support them?

Known as the ‘Jobstown 27' 20 of them have been accused of minor offences, with 7 of protesters charged with the more serious crime of ‘false imprisonment’. The state are saying these 7 people imprisoned Labour politician Joan Burton by staging a sit down protest in front of her car in November 2014. The protest was part of the anti-water charges movement and it lasted several hours during which Burton was unable to drive her car away. On the day there were dozens of Gardaí present. Two arrests were made on the day, one for damage to a patrol car and one public order offence. There are also photos from the day showing a Garda pepper spraying women.

In the months after the Jobstown protest 20 Gardaí were tasked with collecting evidence against the protesters and 3 months later Gardaí entered the houses of the Jobstown 27 in dawn raids to arrest them. One of the people arrested was Paul Murphy, an opposition TD in the Irish government. Murphy had also been present at the protest, as had two Dublin councillors Kieran Mahon and Mick Murphy, who were also arrested. Somehow the information about the arrests was leaked to the national broadcaster RTE with RTE knowing about the raids before the people arrested knew what was happening. This is not the first time in Ireland that information damaging to opposition parties has been leaked to the press by the Gardaí.

Some of the people arrested on the morning of February 10th 2015 were teenagers. 16 year old Jason Lester was woken by 10 Gardaí entering his house at 7.10am to arrest him and take him to the Garda station. He was later released without charge, but not before spending several hours in a cell. Speaking to the Irish Mirror Jason’s Dad Darren said,

“There is nothing illegal about protesting. Jason did nothing wrong, he took part in the demonstration but did nothing wrong. He did not sit in front of the car, he did not throw anything, he attended the protest and that was it.

“For the police to bang down the door at 7.10am this morning is outrageous. Think of the manpower and the money this has wasted to arrest a schoolboy.

“Jason should be in school but instead he is in a cell.”

At the time of writing 5 teenage boys have been before the juvenile court in relation to the Jobstown Protest and one of them was given a 6 month detention sentence for ‘false imprisonment’. Footage from the day shows the then 15 year old walking backwards in front of Burton, who is surrounded by Gardaí. 19 people are now awaiting trial for the same charge of false imprisonment, which carries a potential life sentence.

Once the public heard about the heavily policed dawn raids and the arrests in Jobstown the hashtag #JobstownNotGuilty was created and a huge swell of anti water charges activists (many of whom has partaken in similar protests) began to speak out and show support for the Jobstown 27. The anti water charges movement had (and still has) huge support from the general public, with 73% of Irish people engaging with the movement via civil disobedience.

The general public’s support was despite the widespread demonisation of anti water charges protesters by both mainstream media outlets, some politicians and some members of the Gardaí. In October 2015 Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald admitted to the existence of Garda surveillance operation specifically targeting anti water charges protesters. Fitzgerald said Operation Mizen: “was established … to provide appropriate policing responses to maintain public order and to ensure the safety of all involved in protests against water charges.”

Speaking to Newstalk Paul Murphy said the existence of Operation Mizen “should cause serious worries across society to those who think that the right to protest is a fundamental democratic right,”

“A number of weeks ago when I raised this issue with the Taoiseach, he dismissed it as if it was impossible that such a unit would exist within the Gardaí, however now with this confirmation from the Minister further questions need to be asked.”

Fast forward to 2017 and the mainstream press have instigated a seemingly voluntary blackout on the Jobstown protesters story. With the news cycle moving so fast and the story beginning in 2014 maybe that can be forgiven, except that in the last week the DPP has requested new rules for the jury selection. And they are unprecedented.

The DPP want to disqualify from jury duty anyone who has:

  • Ever expressed a view on water charges online

The shocking and unprecedented aspect is that while Jury lists like this have been used previously — it has always been to exclude people who may have been biased against the accused. In this case they are looking to exclude anyone who might be sympathetic towards the accused.

This denies the people accused of being able to be tried by their peers and also aims to eliminate an entire class of people from being eligible for jury duty. It seems as if the DPP are attempting to create a hostile jury, with the odds stacked against the Jobstown protesters before the trial even begins.

Article 40 of the Irish constitution guarantees our liberties to exercise our right to peacefully assemble without arms and to to express freely our convictions and opinions.

If the DPP’s request is granted it will set a dangerous precedent. For the people accused they are already facing a possible life sentence — from what some people believe to be politically motivated trumped-up charges. However there are wider implications for other Irish citizens, especially those engaged in any kind of activism. The chilling potential effects of this case on our right to protest, our civil liberties and our freedom cannot be underestimated. We know from the water charges movement that standing together we are stronger, we can make a difference. This is an historic opportunity for the people of Ireland to ensure the attack on citizen’s rights ends. The time is now.

Broadsheet published an excellent piece highlighting the class differences in how the DPP are handling this case. You can read it here.

Joy bringer, writer, podcaster, mother of 5, colourful fashionista