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Joan Burton should be able to take name calling, court hears

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Former Tanaiste Joan Burton has been told that as a public representative, she should be “big enough and bold enough” to take distasteful name-calling on board, a trial has heard.

Ms Burton took the witness stand for the third day today in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and six other water protesters.

Mr Murphy (34), together with South Dublin Councillors Kieran Mahon (39) and Michael Murphy (53) and four other men, are charged with falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell by restricting their personal liberty without their consent at Fortunestown Road, Jobstown, Tallaght on November 15, 2014.

Paul Murphy of Kingswood Heights, Tallaght; Kieran Mahon of Bolbrook Grove, Tallaght; Michael Murphy of Whitechurch Way, Ballyboden, Dublin; Frank Donaghy (71) of Alpine Rise, Tallaght; Ken Purcell (50) of Kiltalown Green; Michael Banks (46) of Brookview Green, Tallaght and Scott Masterson (34) of Carrigmore Drive, Tallaght have all denied the charges.

The trial has heard allegations that Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell were trapped in cars for about three hours after they left a graduation ceremony at An Cosan education centre in Tallaght.

Defence barrister Michael O'Higgins, SC, representing Ken Purcell, told Ms Burton that he did not defend the behaviour of anyone who threw a water balloon or an egg at her. That was “an indefensible action”, he said.

He said he was also not defending “anybody who obstructed your path in a way that was unlawful”.

However, he put it to Ms Burton that as the leader of the country, being called distasteful names should be “water off a duck's back”.

“Can I suggest to you for the leader of a country, while it's thoroughly distasteful and unpleasant, to be called these things, a bitch, a c***, that is water off a duck's back,” Mr O'Higgins said.

“Not necessarily, if it's accompanied by people raining blows on a car,” Ms Burton replied, adding that the day of the Jobstown protest was a “very unusual experience.”

“This particular episode was entirely different to other experiences I had,” she said. “The venom and the hatred that was part of this particular event was unusual.”

Mr O'Higgins put it to Ms Burton that while name-calling may be ugly, it was also a person's right to express that view as part of freedom of expression.

“You should be big enough and bold enough to take it on board,” he said.

“I'm not sure why you're asking me to be big enough and bold enough,” Ms Burton replied.

Defence barrister Ciaran O'Loughlin SC, representing Michael Banks, put it to Ms Burton that there were, “many many people there that afternoon who did nothing untoward”.

Ms Burton agreed, but said there were “many many people there who were protesting”.

“They were banging the car, they were shouting and roaring,” she said. She said as time went on, she found the situation was “scary and menacing”.

“Particularly when I wasn't able to leave the car and there was the constant worry if people got the car door open what would happen to us and where would we run to,” she said.

Ms Burton said that in the past, she has occasionally had to wait while a protest march was taking place. “I have been on the top of a bus as the march goes past,” she said.

But she said this was in the context of marches that had prior clearance from gardaí. “The gardaí have cleared the route for the march,” she said.

She said she feels protests in recent times have become “very different in character to what has been the traditional protest in Ireland, which has been peaceful”. Part of a new political philosophy at the moment included “shaming”, she added.

The trial continues before Judge Melanie Greally and a jury of seven men and five women.