By Neil Moore – Chair, Unite Irish Youth Committee (personal capacity)
In October, in an outrageous decision, Dublin Children’s Court found a 17-year-old guilty of the ‘false imprisonment’ of Joan Burton, then Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Labour Party leader in the South. The evidence against him? That, at a spontaneous community protest in response to Burton’s visit, he walked around, sat down, encouraged others to sit down, chanted into a megaphone, filmed Joan Burton and asked her to talk to him. That’s literally it!
This was during a sit-down protest in the working class community of Jobstown in November 2014 which saw Joan Burton kept in her luxury car for two hours under heavy guard by the Gardaí – part of a mass movement in the South against the introduction of water charges, a movement which has forced the suspension of the charges through huge demonstration and, crucially, majority non-payment. The protest was followed, in February last year, by a series of dawn raids on 23 of the protesters, in what was revealed to be a huge Garda operation.
State engaged in political campaign
This has led to the trial of the 17-year-old and of 18 others beginning next February. Three Socialist Party members are among the accused, including Anti-Austerity Alliance TD (member of the Irish parliament) Paul Murphy. This is part of a backlash from the state, fearful of what can develop from further protest movements and civil disobedience. The Irish establishment has orchestrated dawn raids, arrests, heavy police presence on demonstrations along with these show trials in an attempt to drive working class people away from the anti-austerity movement and the radical left.
The establishment fears a growing left movement winning the ears of hundreds of thousands of working class and young people who are angry, not only at austerity taxes like the water charges, but also at the lack of any sign of a recovery for their class. Their fears are not without foundation, as has been demonstrated in the last few months with an upswing in strikes by tram and bus drivers, teachers and now even the police.
A dangerous precedent
In the case of the 17-year-old student – the first of the Jobstown protesters to face trial – the judge found him guilty but passed down a ‘conditional discharge’, meaning that no sentence will be passed as long as the student shows ‘good behaviour’ for nine months. This has however set a dangerous legal precedent, effectively criminalising peaceful protests. Workers who picket their employers could potentially be found guilty of falsely imprisoning their bosses or strike breakers! This attack must be resisted by the whole of the workers’ movement and the left across Ireland and internationally.