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Ireland: Jobstown protester found guilty
Attack on democratic rights must be resisted
Matt Waine, Anti Austerity Alliance councillor and Socialist Party member
In an outrageous decision, a 17 year-old student who took part in a peaceful anti-water charges sit-down protest in November 2014 has been found guilty of falsely imprisoning the then Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) and leader of the Labour Party, Joan Burton.
Up to 100 protesters gathered outside the Children's Court in Dublin from early this morning hoping that, on the basis of the most flimsy of evidence, the judge would have no choice but to dismiss the case.
The 'evidence' included: He may have said into the megaphone at one stage: "Joanie in your ivory tower - this is called people power". He walked around. He sat down and encouraged others to sit down. He waved his arms. He filmed Joan Burton and said: "Talk to us Joan".
The judge found the protester 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.
But the precedent has been set. It is now clear that the political and legal establishment is getting ready for the trials next year, when AAA TD (member of Irish parliament) Paul Murphy and 17 others face similar charges in the circuit court.
If found guilty it is likely that some, if not all, will face imprisonment. If Paul Murphy is sentenced to more than six months in prison, he will be disqualified as a TD - a position he won on a wave of opposition to water charges.
This is also about criminalising the anti-austerity and anti-water charges movements. The political establishment is smarting at having been forced into a major climbdown on a key plank of its austerity agenda, water charges.
It wants the message to go out - this is what happens if you step out of line.
But it also fears a growing left movement winning the ears of hundreds of thousands of working class and young people who are disgusted and angry at its brutal austerity agenda.
They are trying to paint those, like the AAA and Socialist Party, who stood up and organised a mass movement of opposition, as 'violent protesters'. As the lawyer in the trial said, this is "a recipe for totalitarianism."
The seriousness of this attack cannot be underestimated. The decision also has important lessons for workers and trade unions. Over the last few months, a resurgence of industrial militancy and strike action by tram drivers, bus drivers, retail workers, teachers and even the police, has put the government on the back foot.
This is the knock-on effect to their claims of a growing recovery in the economy - now workers are demanding their piece of the recovery. But will the courts and the state resort to similar actions against workers taking industrial action? Will workers who picket their employers be guilty of falsely imprisoning their bosses?
'Jobstown Not Guilty' has called for a day of protest on Saturday 29 October across Ireland and internationally to show solidarity with the young student and the 18 other protesters facing trial next year, and calling for the end of this assault on our democratic right to protest.
No right to protest?
The judge, John King, said the Jobstown protest was 'not peaceful' and the behaviour of the protesters was 'contrary to public order and morality'!
Accordingly, he said, the protest did not attract protection under the constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights.
He said the state 'had a duty to intervene for public safety, to prevent disorder and crime and to protect the rights of others, particularly, Ms Burton'.
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