Irish Water demonstration in Raheny (Top) and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Following reports that water protests have been ‘infiltrated by dissident republican groups’, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald spoke to Mary Wilson on RTÉ’s Drive Time yesterday evening.
During the interview, Minister Fitzgerald claimed that water protesters had, among other things, slashed the tyres of Garda and GMC Sierra vehicles.
Ms Wilson tried to ascertain from Ms Fitzgerald exactly how many such incidents had occurred, but Ms Fitzgerald couldn’t give Ms Wilson a figure.
Readers may wish to note that the alleged slashing of tyres by protesters was something that was mentioned in the High Court on Wednesday afternoon when GMC Sierra made a request for an extension to an injunction already in place against protesters.
This court hearing took place before the protests in Santry Sports Complex, and the subsequent protest outside Coolock Garda Station occurred.
Mark Coughlan, from RTÉ’s Prime Time, was at the High Court on Wednesday. Last night, he wrote:
“That day the courtroom was packed. People had to wait fifteen minutes before other cases were completed and enough people left before they could even get inside. I had to sit on the floor to type notes. The Courts Service staff brought out a plug-in fan to keep air circulating in the room.”
“The court had previously granted an injunction order preventing anyone aware of the order from “assaulting, harassing, intimidating, endangering or otherwise unlawfully interfering with or obstructing the [meter installation] workers”. Nine named protesters were before the court that day, video footage was presented of a number of them as evidence of a need to extend the order, to make it effective. Counsel for GMC Sierra said the footage showed them interfering with or obstructing work. Not all footage provided to the court was shown on Wednesday. What was shown included footage of people standing with their back to vans and one clip where a pipe appeared to be removed from behind the barrier of a GMC Sierra workstation where work had paused. There was no sound on the video footage.”
“Affidavits read in court said GMC Sierra workers have been subject to “assault”, “racial abuse”, “being spat at” and that there had been criminal damage to GMC Sierra property, including tires slashed on vehicles. These affidavits did not attribute any specific acts to any individual. The protesters I spoke to who were before the court said they didn’t relate to them.”
“An extension to the injunction order was sought to prevent anyone with knowledge of the order from coming within 20 metres of a GMC Sierra work location. Counsel for GMC Sierra said the company respected the right to lawfully protest and that the extension to the order would not prevent such protests. They said it was sought to ensure the health and safety of the public, protesters and workers. The protesters named said they act peacefully and within their constitutional rights and denied any wrongdoing.”
“The High Court agreed to the extension of the order. On hearing the decision a number of people at the back of the court jeered. One man shouted “what about our constitutional rights?” towards Justice Paul Gilligan, who was presiding. The judge took the unusual step of addressing him, saying the decision balanced the right to lawfully work with the constitutional right to lawfully protest. He said the order would allow for residents and passing traffic to access and go about their business.”
Meanwhile, Minister Fitzgerald’s interview with Mary Wilson on Drivetime yesterday evening:
Mary Wilson: “Would you also accept that the majority protesting against water charges are peaceful protesters?”
Frances Fitzgerald: “I would absolutely accept that and I know there are many concerns out there, concerns which as a Government, we intend to deal with in the next couple of weeks and deal with those concerns which have been expressed. We understand those concerns, we want to deal with them in a fair and equitable manner. But I believe that many of those peaceful protesters out there, when they know precisely about some of the incidents which are happening, in relation to the water protests, I think they will be horrified. By that, I mean when you hear about incidents in relation to, let me give you some examples, the slashing of tyres and Garda vehicles, the slashing of tyres on vans that are being used by those trying to put in water meters, the breaking of windscreens, the pulling of gardaí into crowds, so that the gardaí cannot get back to their own colleagues, when you hear about people jumping on vans and extreme intimidation of workers and of gardaí, I don’t believe that the thousands of people who were on that march last Saturday would support that type of behaviour.”
Wilson: “All right, minister, to stay…”
Fitzgerald: “I think peaceful protest is acceptable…”
Wilson: “To stay with the details you’ve given there because slashing of tyres, slashing of vans, windscreens, gardaí being pulled into crowds – how many? How often?”
Fitzgerald: “Well, they have been part of these protests. There’s a series of events like that which have happened. The intimidation, clearly there are people before the courts, there has been a huge interference with workers who are trying to install water meters. People have been, you know, standing on top of the areas where the water meters need to be installed, it has been extremely difficult for the gardaí and they have, actually, in my belief, showed incredible resilience in dealing with the situation and, as I say, I really believe the vast majority of people who have concerns, which we as a government totally understand about water charges and about various issues in relation to Irish Water, I believe they will be horrified at some of the particular events that are happening in various areas, particularly around Dublin on a regular basis, I think that is of huge concern and I believe many people out there would share my concerns.”
Wilson: “They would of course, but they would also perhaps say that members of Government would only be delighted to be able to jump on issues like this and exaggerate them, to shift the focus away from what has been a debacle over water charges.”
Fitzgerald: “I can assure you that is simply not the case. I am, what I am telling you is factual, it’s based on detailed reports that I have in relation to these incidences, these have happened and there is that level of intimidation and these incidents are factual…”
Wilson: “I don’t doubt, minister, you know what is being said. I suppose the question I’m asking is about quantifying them.”
Fitzgerald: “Yes, well, I mean they are, on an ongoing basis, gardaí have to be deployed, as I say, in a variety of areas on a regular basis to stop the intimidation. The gardaí don’t want to be at these sites, let me say to you. I mean the gardaí’s job, they have no wish to be at the sites. They are there because the public order cannot be preserved unless they are there and people cannot get on with their work legitimately, that is the problem.”