In Dublin at the end of June, seven defendants – the first of three groups – were found not guilty of falsely imprisoning then Deputy Prime Minister and Labour leader Joan Burton during a spontaneous, community protest against austerity in the working class community of Jobstown in November 2014.
The protest delayed Burton in her Minister car, surrounded by police, for three hours in opposition to the hated water charges and her attacks to social welfare.
The significance of this victory cannot be overestimated. Had the defendants been found guilty, the right to peaceful protest and for workers to effectively picket during strikes would have been seriously undermined. Instead, the jury rightly vindicated the accused and established that protest is not a crime, while the trial also exposed the nature of the Southern state, including the police, supposedly there to protect the people.
Firstly, the trial drew attention to a Garda (police) conspiracy to secure the convictions of the Jobstown seven. Specifically, Garda Gavin Cooke claimed to have seen Paul Murphy (Socialist Party member, Solidarity TD and defendant) orchestrating the event and telling people where to stand, whereas CCTV footage proved that Garda Cooke wasn’t even in the same place as Mr Murphy for the majority of the protest, showing that his testimony could not be accurate and calling into questions his motives for lying under oath. Several officers repeated precisely the same false testimony. Throughout the entire Garda investigation of the incident, not one protester was interviewed, proving a desire on the part of the Gardaí to make this a one-sided case in favour of the right-wing establishment that they prop up. Further to this, the existence of ‘Operation Mizen’ is a clear example of political policing, in which anti-water charges protestors were specifically targeted, further proving the bias of the Gardaí, and also calling into question the role of the state in handing out orders to target those that oppose them.
It is clear that the Southern state are threatened by the power posed of working class organising against their harsh austerity agenda, as evidenced by their attempt to use the Jobstown defendants as an example to deter such protests in future. A state in which peaceful protesters are threatened with life imprisonment for carrying out their democratic rights is a rotten one, and one which must be challenged. Unfortunately for them, the ordinary people who made up the jury saw what this trial was about. Since the bruising verdict, some establishment spokespersons have questioned whether jury trials are necessary! This is another blow for them after the campaign of mass non-payment forced the abolition of the water charges.
It is essential that the workers’ movement demand the dropping all charges against the remaining defendants, as well as an independent inquiry into the Jobstown investigation. Furthermore, we must call for the abolition of political policing units, the democratisation of the Gardaí, and full accountability within the police, so as to ensure the supposed ‘guardians of justice’ act in the interests of everyone, and not just the crooked, capitalist establishment with which they currently collude.
By Cerys Falvey