At the end of April, the biggest political trial in Ireland for a generation began with seven activists facing charges of false imprisonment for taking part in a sit-down protest and slow march. In October last year, a 17-year-old was found guilty in the non-jury Children’s Court on this basis.
Should there be a guilty verdict, the defendants face a maximum sentence of ten years and it will set a dangerous precedent for the future of protest and social movements.
It began on 15th November 2014, during a visit by then Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton to Jobstown, a working class community in Dublin. While in government and as Minister for Social Protection, the Irish Labour Party and Burton personally were directly responsible for harsh austerity measures that have ravaged this community, including the imposition of water charges. Whilst Burton was inconvenienced by being “trapped” in her car for a few hours by a community mobilisation, surrounded by police, the cuts she is responsible for have trapped working class people of Jobstown and beyond in a vicious cycle of poverty.
The trials are partly about punishing those who led the non-payment campaign which consigned water charges to the dustbin. The establishment wants to send a warning to workers taking industrial action and emerging social movements, such as the campaign for a woman’s right to choose. If a guilty verdict is returned, any protest which temporarily inconveniences a politician or a picket line which stops a scab during a strike could be regarded as an act of ‘false imprisonment’.
As the trial has progressed, Joan Burton and the Irish Labour Party have been exposed. Their betrayal of working class people has been laid bare whilst being cross-examined by the defence. Burton was told “this is not the Dáil” when she tried to spin questions about cuts she imposed. Her advisor who was with her in the car, Karen O’Connell was on the record calling protesters “the f*cking dregs”. This underlines how the Irish Labour Party leadership hold working class people in utter contempt. There were audible gasps in the court when Burton claimed she and her party were the political heirs of James Connolly.
The Jobstown Not Guilty campaign is about defending the right to protest by exercising it. Socialists, trade unionists and all of those on the left need to keep up the pressure with protest and make the rotten role the state can play against peaceful protests and working class communities bare for all to see.
By Courtney Robinson