Late on Wednesday 12 August, various national media outlets reported that formal charges were to be brought against 23 people from the working class community of Jobstown in Dublin, including Paul Murphy TD (Irish MP) and Councillors Kieran Mahon and Mick Murphy of the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) and Socialist Party. The information was leaked to reporters before any of the accused were notified, most likely from sources inside the Gardai (police).
The charges relate to a community protest that took place in November 2014, when the Deputy Prime Minister, Joan Burton, was delayed by a sit-down protest for roughly two-hours, and include allegations of violent disorder, criminal damage and false imprisonment. These are extremely serious charges, with false imprisonment potentially carrying a life sentence. The case will go to trial in the Circuit Court, meaning that a jury will decide, as opposed to a judge. It’s not clear when exactly these trials will take place, it will be after the general election, but unquestionably they will be the most significant political trials in Ireland in decades.
In response to these latest developments, AAA representatives have condemned these decisions as plainly politically motivated. They come at a time when the opinions polls look grim for the government and their plans for water charges are in ruins, having just failed the Eurostat test (a central part of their funding model) and with a massive non-payment rate of 57% of the first bill.
In February, over the course of two weeks, 40 people from Jobstown were arrested in dawn raids by Garda forces in excessive numbers. These unconventional actions by the Garda were obviously intended for one main purpose, to terrorise a community for engaging in an effective protest against the ’Minister for Social Protection’ (the leader of the Labour Party who is widely seen as culpable for attacks on the poorest sections of society; those on social welfare and lone parents in particular) and to send a warning to the wider working class not to follow the example of Jobstown.
The act of leaking vague reports about charges to the media is also intended to provoke fear in the community. It also contradicts the earlier justification for the dawn raids on the spurious grounds that the suspects were ’flight risks’.
The protest that these charges relate to was a significant event in the mass movement that has taken place against water charges in the last year. It involved 700 local people converging on a school were the Minister was giving a presentation, after news spread that she was in the area. Combined with outrage over water charges, an understandable anger exists in the community of Jobstown which has been completely abandoned by the political establishment over many years, and betrayed by the Labour Party who traditionally had a base of support there.
But these events, and the violent reaction to them from the establishment, reflect a polarisation in Irish society between those most affected by the damage austerity and those who benefit from it, and also demonstrate just how rotten the Labour Party has become. The prospect of a trial that includes Joan Burton as the key witness, testifying against victims of her savage austerity policies, in which the fundamental right to protest will be the primary political theme, will only mean the hatred of Labour is further entrenched.
Alongside the community of Jobstown, the Anti Austerity Alliance will be fighting a major political campaign to call for the dropping of all charges against protesters. As well as water charges and austerity, the AAA will also make this a major issue in the General Election. If this does go to trial we will ensure that Austerity is put on the dock and will defend the right to effective protest.