Establishment criminalises protest : Defend the Jobstown 27

By Paul Murphy TD

The dramatic staged dawn raids of February have had their sequel revealed. 23 of those arrested for protesting against Joan Burton in Jobstown in November of last year are to be charged with serious criminal offences including false imprisonment, criminal damage and violent disorder.

We know this, because Paul Reynolds, RTE crime correspondent, notoriously close to the Gardai told us. Such a leak is not just unprecedented, it also likely amounts to a criminal offence of interference with the administration of justice.

Attacking a working class movement

However, justice couldn’t be further from the minds of those pursuing the Jobstown 23. Just like in February, when the dawn raids struck fear into hundreds of people that they could be next to be arrested, this time the leak has all those who were previously arrested now scared of a further dawn raid and what follows. It is a strategy to criminalise protest and to send a message from the establishment – ‘enough is enough’.

The context is a mass movement against water charges which has brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets and organised successfully for mass non-payment. The decision to charge seems likely to come from a section of the state that is deeply concerned about the existence of such mass civil disobedience. It is deeply worried by the rising confidence and politicisation of working class communities precisely like Jobstown, by the collapse of the establishment parties and the rise of the radical Left, in particular the Anti-Austerity Alliance.

Setting the record straight

Setting aside the breathless reporting of large sections of Joan Burton being “trapped in her car”, what actually happened on 15 November 2014? A protest happened. A largely spontaneous protest of a working class community that has taken the brunt of austerity, the worst parts of which are personally associated with Joan Burton – rent allowance cuts, cuts to child benefit and cuts to lone parents allowance more recently.

A community that had previously voted heavily for the Labour Party heard that Joan Burton was in the area and hundreds and hundreds gathered to express their anger, their sense of betrayal, and yes, for all the gnashing of teeth of sections of the media about the word, the political hatred of many towards a figure who symbolised both sell-out and austerity.

The car that Joan Burton was in was met with a sit-down protest as she exited from a graduation ceremony. That took place at the exact point that a foodbank operates, which growing numbers are forced to go to. It was a few minutes drive from a couple who were living in their car.

This is political policing

The eggs thrown by young people separate from the protest and the solitary brick (which must be the most well publicised brick in the history of the world) that was thrown afterwards were deliberately conflated with the protest in order to try to paint the protest as something that it wasn’t. It was a sit-down protest and a slow-march in front of the Tanaiste’s car. Nothing that hasn’t happened multiple times previously and for which nobody has ever faced a dawn raid or a potentially significant prison time!

At the time of the February arrests, any suggestion that this may be ‘political policing’ was met by eye-rolling of much of the media, which considered it a ridiculous and paranoid suggestion. Since then, there has been repeated heavy-handed policing of water meter protests, including armed Gardai at a recent protest, and a large number of arrests. There has been the unprecedented leaking of the charges.

There has been the sinister revelations about ‘Operation Mizen’, a secret spying operation on water charges protesters, directed by the Garda Commissioner’s husband. Now, there is the refusal of a collection permit to the AAA on the grounds that the money would be used to “encourage the commission of an unlawful act”. That is a decision made by the most senior Garda in the area, who undoubtedly had a key input into the Jobstown arrests. If this isn’t political policing, I’d hate to see what is.