With the Jobstown trials kicking off tomorrow, we caught up with Paul Murphy to check in with the campaign and hear what can be expected in the coming weeks.
Okay, so not long now until the trial starts. What’s the sequence of events we can expect? Is everyone being tried at once or are there a few distinct cases on the go?
First thing on Monday is a legal argument about the jury in court. The DPP is seeking a range of incredible exclusions from the jury – people from Tallaght, people connected with Tallaght, people in campaigning groups for or against water charges and people who have commented on water charges on social media! Our legal teams will be contesting all of those. Then the judge will make a ruling on that.
After that, we will have a process of selection of the jury. Then Tuesday or Wednesday, the trial itself will take place. The first witness we expect is Joan Burton. Then the trial will run for around a month. At the end of that, the jury will deliberate and come back with a guilty, not guilty or hung jury decision. Then, if we’re found guilty, it’ll be over to the judge to decide on a sentence up to life.
The first group is a group of seven who are tried with false imprisonment. Then the next up are six people tried with false imprisonment and violent disorder. Then the remaining five adult defendants who face charges other than false imprisonment have their trials starting in early 2018.
Leaving aside the rhetoric for a second, ye must be nervous facing into this? On a personal level how are people holding together? It must be a seriously disruptive experience to people’s personal, working and family lives?
Yeah it’s very hard for people, worrying about their families if they go to prison. But the group has come together really well. With the exception of the political activists, it’s a fairly random group of people from the Jobstown area who joined the protest on the day. We have bonded under attack over now a two year period and have been meeting regularly. So there’s a really good support network of people.
The charges here are kinda remarkable really aren’t they? I’ve seen a picture of a very angry Joan Burton taking part in a protest against Ronald Regan in the 1980s. A blockade is a very ordinary piece of protest theatrics. Many Labour members have engaged in them over the years. There’s a sharp political motivation here to criminalise the water movement? History will not be kind to them?
Yeah the charges are unprecedented. We’ve looked back over decades of protest and Ministers and Taoisigh have often had their cars delayed by sit-down protests. There has very rarely been any arrests or prosecutions for even any public order offenses arising from them – nevermind prosecutions for false imprisonment. It has simply never happened. The same seems to be the case across Europe. I met with MEPs from the left group and discussed about the case. Initially, many said, oh yes, we have public order offences in our country too, then when I explained that we were facing the charges for kidnapping, they were shocked.
We’re just saying here the water movement seems like a million years ago now, has the energy dissipated to some degree or are we just watching and waiting in grimace as Irish Water goes through its death throes in the Dail? Could the energy of the water movement pass into other struggles on a street level?
I think the the anti-water charges movement will leave an indelible mark on Irish politics. To be honest, I think it has an ongoing impact on a range of different issues. It’s a feature in workers’ strikes, the number of union activists who reference the anti-water charegs movement – that it gave them the confidence to struggle. The same is true in the repeal movement. So I think while the anti-water charges movement has ebbed relative to the mass movement before, it is still present. I think what the establishment fears is that it means it can rear its head again on a very active scale.
The recent doc was a good response to the media’s whole framing of this. From dawn raids to those on trial finding out they were being charged from journalists. The mainstream media has really shown how embedded in the establishment it is here. Does any of this surprise you?
Yeah the media response to all of this, and the campaign against it is very revealing. They hide behind contempt of court laws, but interpret them in the most conservative way possible – to effectively not cover anything that’s going on.
If there were protesters and an opposition MP facing false imprisonment charges in another country because of a sit-down protest, depending on the country, the media might strike a pose of outrage. Whereas, here it’s often covered in passing by presuming our guilt and using the protest to illustrate the dangers of the bogeyman of ‘populism’. It doesn’t surprise me at all unfortunately!
There will be a protest assemby at Smithfield Square tomorrow to send solidarity to the defendants.