TD Joan Collins cleared of breaking Public Order Act

CourtsBy Tom Tuite
Joan Collins
Joan Collins

TD Joan Collins has been cleared of breaking the Public Order Act during a water protest in Crumlin in Dublin last year.

In what had been dubbed the Crumlin 11 trial, the outgoing independent TD and Right2Change campaigner and nine co-defendants were acquitted by Judge Aeneas McCarthy at Dublin District Court.

They had pleaded not guilty to failing to comply with a garda's direction to leave the vicinity of a protest. Two of the TD's co-defendants also had charges for obstructing gardai.

In evidence gardai said they and GMC/Sierra workers, who had been trying to install water meters, were verbally abused with foul and disgraceful language and were threatened by water protesters at Parnell Road in Crumlin on the morning of April 20th last.

Today Judge McCarthy said he noted that the scene had been described as a commotion and noisy and a Garda Sergeant had not used a device to project his voice when he gave a direction to the protesters leave. He could not be sure that the people there heard it, he ruled.

The court also heard that some of the defendants were not present when the caution was given and some arresting gardai had a different understanding of the caution.

After the judge dismissed the charges, Ms Collins told reporters outside court: “I am really angry, this is not by accident that for three days during an election I have been pulled in here along with my colleagues in relation to the election.”

“It should never have happened, I said that at the very beginning, what we were doing was legal that we had higher ground from the point of view of peaceful protesting."

"In my case the guards said we were violent, that we were aggressive, that were using extremely foul language and that has been absolutely wiped out in that courtroom over the past few days. We were not aggressive we were peaceful and we stood our ground.”

“It was heavy handed policing , I believe it was political policing,” the Dublin South-Central TD said.

She and her co-defendants, all from Dublin, including councillor Patrick Dunne (48) with an address at St Gerard's Road, Greenhills, had faced a non-jury trial. Cllr Dunne had his charge dismissed on Tuesday.

Today following submissions from Michael Lynn SC for Joan Collins, and arguments made by barristers for the remaining eight co-defendants, Judge Aeneas McCarthy dismissed the charges.

Garda Sergeant David Lynch told the court that when he arrived at Parnell Road he saw six or seven people interfering with workers. Later on there were about 30 to 40 protesters there, he said.

He claimed he received verbal abuse and was called “f***ing scumbag”. He told the court that he, other gardai and the GMC/Sierra workers were threatened. However, he agreed that Cllr Dunne was neither abusive nor using foul language and had not committed an offence but Gda Lynch added that he was part of the group.

He told the court a youth threatened him that “they would have a group of 50 to 100 and we would need every car in Crumlin to police it”. He said some were trespassing in gardens. He said that he asked the group to desist numerous times and he was concerned for a lot young women with children who could not get past and had to cross the road.

He spoke to Joan Collins and Cllr Dunne and another councillor “to get some middle ground to let GMC/Sierra workers do their work or leave” and was told by the TD that “they were entitled to protest and they were not going to move”. She was later arrested.

Gda Sgt Lynch thought a breach of the peace was likely to occur and he said he gave the protesters a direction under the public order act and outlined to the them penalties of not complying. He said he did that numerous times and he asked them to move on peacefully. “With that they became more agitated and abusive and sat down,” he said.

He described the language used by some of the protesters as foul and disgraceful.

In cross-examination he agreed with lawyers for the defence that Joan Collins and Cllr Dunne had been co-operative and had not been there at the outset of the protest. At one point, they moved away to discuss the situation.

The court has also been shown video footage from Go-Pro cameras and lawyers for the defendants quizzed gardai on whether or not they heard the caution being issued to their clients.

Another garda has told the court that one of the protesters was violent and had to be pepper-sprayed. The defence put it to him that the man could not have been violent because he had been put on the ground and in handcuffs. 

John O'Reilly (62) from Leighland Road, Crumlin had been accused of not obeying the direction. His barrister argued that the first time he was spoken to by a garda was when he was arrested.

Defendant Oisin O Raw (18) from Derravaragh Road in Terenure had a camera and claimed he was there as a freelance journalist to get news footage, his barrister said.

Also acquitted were: Edel Kenny (39) of Monasterboice Road, Patrick Burke (50) of Dolphin House Rialto; Sofian Murphy (29) from Dolphin Road, Drimnagh, Gavin Byrne (42) of Temple Manor Way, Greenhills; Patrick Waine (56) of St Malachy's Drive, Walkinstown, and Andrew Canning (55) from Clanbrassil Close, Clanbrassil St, D8 also have the same charge.

They had all pleaded not guilty. The trial could not proceed in the case of Aaron Healy (25) from Saul Road, Crumlin, who also has a charge for not obeying the garda direction. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest when he did not attend the proceedings.