By Andrew Farley
Beginning this month, 17 people will be on trial in the South, facing charges of false imprisonment for engaging in a sit-down protest. The verdict will have far-reaching implications for the right to protest and social activism in general, particularly if the defendants are found guilty.
On 15th November 2014, during a visit by then Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton, a spontaneous protest erupted in Jobstown, Dublin. While in government, Burton and the Irish Labour Party played a key role in seeking to implement harsh austerity measures, including water charges, which would have a significant detrimental impact on working class communities. A number of activists from Solidarity (then the Anti-Austerity Alliance) – including parliamentary representative for the area Paul Murphy – were present at the protest. These activists are among those now standing trial for engaging in a peaceful demonstration which saw Joan Burton’s car delayed for two and a half hours.
In October last year, a 17-year-old was found guilty in the Children’s Court of false imprisonment for participating in the protest. Pieces of “evidence” used against the teenager – who was 15 years old at the time – included holding a phone to Joan Burton while asking her to speak to him and chanting through a megaphone. This guilty verdict sets a dangerous precedent for the upcoming trials which could see defendants face serious prison sentences if convicted. If sentences to more than six months, Paul Murphy would be disbarred from the Dáil.
Establishment seeks revenge on anti-austerity movement
It is clear that the threat of imprisonment is being used as a tool of intimidation by the state in response to the growing demand for an anti-capitalist alternative among ordinary people. The success of non-payment movement in forcing the government to backtrack on water charges is a strong indicator of the power of working class people to affect real change when stood united. Obviously, this is seen as an embarrassment by the political establishment who are now implementing oppressive measures as a means of quelling dissent and to send a message to any who would dare take a stand against them.
Right to protest under attack
The outcome of the upcoming trials will have serious consequences for the workers’ movement as whole and any who would seek to organise or engage in an act of protest. If it is decided that the protesters at Jobstown are guilty, the definition of “false imprisonment” will be changed to include any occurrence which causes delay or mildly inconveniences a politician or government official. This will set a precedent for how the state will deal with similar situations in the future. Trade union members picketing their workplace during a strike to face serious legal action.
It is absolutely imperative that trade unions, the left, and social movements – North, South and internationally – unite in solidarity against this blatant and contemptuous attack on the right to protest. Over 100 years ago, when facing similar repression, the Industrial Workers of the World declared that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. This slogan could not be more pertinent than it is today. We must stand together now and affirm the cry, “Jobstown Not Guilty”.
For updates and more information on how you can support the campaign, search Jobstown Not Guilty on Facebook.