Danny Byrne, CWI
On 29 March, there was a dramatic new twist in the authoritarian offensive of the Irish state.
This offensive is aimed at criminalising protest, in particular the emblematic Jobstown protest against water charges and austerity, which delayed the car of then Deputy Prime Minister, Joan Burton, for a short period during a visit to the working class neighbourhood of Jobstown, in Dublin in 2014. For their participation in this protest, 18 people, including Solidarity (formerly the Anti-Austerity Alliance) MP and Socialist Party (CWI) member, Paul Murphy, and other Socialist Party members are facing trumped up charges for “false imprisonment”. The trial is set to begin on 24 April and carries a maximum life sentence in the case of conviction.
In response to this outrage, the “Jobstown Not Guilty” campaign was established, to demand the dropping of the charges, and wage a public campaign to tell the truth about what happened at the Jobstown protest, proclaiming the innocence of the defendants.
The campaign has mobilised widespread solidarity, distributing leaflets explaining the truth about the case, and building for a mass rally – an “assembly for justice” – in Dublin on 1 April. The response from Irish working class people was indignant at this blatant attack on the right to protest, and the historic fight against water charges and austerity. Support for the campaign and defendants is widespread.
State lashes out in fear but forced back
This campaign, and the threat of working class action and radicalisation which lies behind it, represents a nightmare for the establishment. They had hoped to frog-march the Jobstown defendants through the courts and (they hope) into jail as quickly, quietly and painlessly as possible.
As momentum built behind the campaign and hundreds of posters were put up throughout Dublin City advertising the “Assembly for Justice”, they lashed out in fear, desperate to silence those who they aim to jail unjustly.
On 29 March, the “Director of Public Prosecutions” (DPP) moved to summon defendants to court at 24 hours notice, claiming that the #JobstownNotGuiltycampaign’s plans and activities violated the integrity of the court. They sought to extend the defendants’ bail conditions, banning defendants from participating in the campaign, from attending protest events, even from speaking in public (or on social media) about the case itself! They want to keep the defendants from raising public awareness about this historic attack on the right to protest.
The DPP was requesting that the defendants be forced to abide by these restrictions or face immediate jailing. This would mean spending the whole run up to the trial, as well as the duration of the trial itself, predicted to run for at least 6 weeks. Presenting the defendants with such an ultimatum, with 24-hours notice, was clearly an attempt to bully them into submission.
However, they showed remarkable resolve, clearly indicating that these draconian conditions were totally unacceptable. They made clear that they would not be accepting these bail conditions and that they were willing to go to prison to defend their right to proclaim their innocence of these trumped-up charges. The campaign went into overdrive, with shock, disbelief and outrage the dominant reaction of those who became aware of what was going on.
This was an attempt to force the liquidation of the #JobstownNotGuilty campaign, to cut across the “Assembly for Justice” and undermine the effectiveness of the public information campaign. However, it backfired badly on the establishment in every possible way.
Paul Murphy TD (on 30 March, before the Assembly for Justice) said: “We responded to this latest attack on the right to protest like we always do, by exercising that right.
The result was that the DPP dropped its application for an extension of bail conditions. Instead, we have given a limited undertaking – that while we will attend and speak at tomorrow’s Assembly For Justice, we will not mention the trial. Others will be talking about our campaign against the attack on the right to protest. As soon as that Assembly is finished, we are free to mention the trial again, as long as we do not interfere with the administration of justice, which has never been our intention. We will be continuing our active involvement in the #JobstownNotGuilty public information campaign.”
This means that the state – temporarily at least – having seen in the 48 hours following the DPP’s application, a glimpse of the mass indignation such a move would provoke, pulled back from its attempt to impose these draconian new bail conditions. All they have achieved is showing in an even clearer way, the undemocratic and draconian nature of this case and their agenda.
Assembly for Justice – a historic show of working class defiance
A tear or two must have been shed in the corridors of power as images and videos were released from Dublin’s iconic trade union ‘Liberty Hall’ on Saturday 1 April where over 700 people gathered in an historic show of defiance and militancy.
The event opened with the defendants lined up on stage wearing gags, which they tore off and cast aside to rapturous applause and shouts. The event was electric, a mass outpouring of anger, solidarity and determination, with a solidly working class attendance. Prominent media, cultural, and sporting figures joined trade unionists, housing campaigners, and socialists on the platform.
Paddy Hill from the famous Birmingham 6, who was genuinely falsely imprisoned – for over 16 years by the British state – and Paul Murphy, stood out as particularly powerful contributions in a 3-hour long meeting which was constantly punctuated by ovations.
It represented a coming together of different strands of resistance, different working class communities and struggles, conscious of the unifying and universal relevance and importance of this historic struggle.
Something rotten in the state?
Last week’s draconian move came from a state establishment embroiled in crisis, its authority, and credibility badly undermined. The police force is especially at the centre of this crisis. During the last weeks and months headlines have been full of stories about corruption and cronyism at the top of the police force, with Chief Commissioner, Noreen O Sullivan, especially in the firing line.
However, the elephant in the room, intertwined with all of these crises, has been Jobstown. The same Garda commissioner had a direct hand in the case, setting up a team of 4 Gardai, who worked flat out around the clock for months on trying to criminalise the Jobstown protest. They launched a spying operation – ‘operation Mizen’ under the direction of the Commissioner’s own husband! – to try and “dig up dirt” on Paul Murphy TD and others involved in the Jobstown protest and wider water charges movement.. Millions of euros of tax-payers’ money was spent on going after 18 working class people from Jobstown and others.
The Garda hierarchy then leaked the news that protestors were to be charged with false imprisonment before the charge had even been made to the defendants!
This is clearly a stitch up. The Jobstown defendants are victims of a shadowy state machine which is embroiled in scandal, losing what little respect and legitimacy it had among working class and young people. At the Assembly for Justice, Paul Murphy was met with a strong response when putting forward the Socialist Party’s view that a genuinely democratic, community-based alternative police force is a more and more pressing need. #JobstownNotGuilty has the potential to be a seminal one in exposing the true nature of the repressive Irish state apparatus to thousands of workers and youth, awakened through struggle.
New phase of social conflict
The state’s offensive on the right to protest and organise comes at a time when protest, organisation, and struggle are more important than ever as a new phase of social and industrial conflict opens up in Ireland. On 31 March, the day the Jobstown defendants attended court to contest this latest outrage, the country was gripped by a wildcat transport general strike, as rail and bus workers around the country walked out in solidarity action, refusing to pass the picket lines of Bus Eireann workers, who have been on all-out strike for over ten days now. This is part of a revival of industrial struggle, with workers in transport, retail, education and other sectors seeking to fight against chronic wage-restraint with increasingly militant methods.
If the establishment succeeds in this trial, which means re-branding peaceful protest as “false imprisonment”, such action would be vulnerable to being labelled in a similar manner. The right to picket, or even to march through a town centre delaying traffic, are all under threat.
Reflecting this and the relevance of this struggle for the wider union movement, a delegation of uniformed striking bus workers marched from their picket line into the Assembly for Justice, and were greeted with some of the biggest cheers of the event. A leading NBRU (National Bus and Rail Union, at the heart of the current dispute) activist addressed the rally, as well as the leader of UNITE the union in Ireland, Jimmy Kelly.
A defining struggle
This is only the beginning of this battle. It can be a defining one for the Irish class struggle. The Socialist Party, as part of Solidarity – The Left Alternative, is at the centre of very significant events, which can represent a turning point for the development of a new, mass fighting socialist Left. Our socialist vision of revolutionary change was a thread which ran through much of Saturday’s proceedings and can win the ear of many thousands more in the coming months.
We struggle to bring together the struggles, demands and needs of #JobstownNotGuilty, the mass women’s movement for abortion rights and the rising tide of industrial battles etc, in a political struggle to replace the decaying establishment of the corrupt and backward Irish ruling class with a real, socialist democracy.
The international working class and youth movement in Ireland and beyond should pay tribute to Jobstown – a small, brave, militant and determined working class community. Its stand, alongside the defendants, and defiance of vilification, repression and intimidation, is one which deserves the attention and solidarity of workers, trade unionists, young people and socialists around the world.