Updated: 29/06/17 : 12:35:02
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Six men not guilty of false imprisonment of former Tániste

Six men on trial for the false imprisonment of former tánaiste Joan Burton and her adviser have been found not guilty by a jury at the Circuit Criminal Court. 

RTÉ reports that after an eight-week trial the jury returned unanimous verdicts having deliberated for less than three hours.

The charges arose from a protest in Jobstown in Tallaght on 15 November 2014.

The prosecution said Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell were detained in garda cars for up to three hours against their will.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, along with two county councillors and three other men, had all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Ms Burton was surrounded by anti-water charge demonstrators as she attended a graduation ceremony at an adult education centre.

She was verbally abused and hit with a water balloon as she walked from the centre to a nearby church.

Amid concerns for her safety she was placed in a garda car and advised to leave the area.

However, protesters surrounded the car, preventing it from leaving the church grounds.

Ms Burton and her adviser Ms O'Connell were then moved to a garda jeep.

The crowd followed and a sit-down protest ensued. It was three hours before the two women were able to leave the area.

In her evidence Ms Burton said she was terrified at times during the ordeal and was fearful about how she would get out of the area and what would happen if the crowd got to her.

She said she felt she was "running for her life" when she eventually left the area on foot to a third waiting garda car.

Ms O'Connell described it as the scariest experience of her life and said she was very frightened while trapped in the cars.

Solidarty TD Paul Murphy and five other men were among the protesters that day.

The prosecution said while they did not engage in any violence, they prevented the women from leaving the area for up to three hours and should be convicted of false imprisonment.

Prosecuting Counsel Sean Gillane told the jury the central question they had to answer was not a political one.

He said although many political topics were brought up during the trial, the jury was there to decide on the facts of what happened on 15 November 2014 and if there had been a transgression of the criminal law.

He said the prosecution was not arguing against the right to protest but it had its limitations.

The Constitution guaranteed "the right to protest and express ourselves but also gave us the right to be free. If the organs of the State such as judges, gardaí, the army or men in white coats were not allowed to detain people because they didn't agree  with their politics then why would we allow Paul Murphy or the other defendants to do it?"

He said Solidarity TD Paul Murphy was one of those who surrounded both cars carrying Ms Burton and had gestured to others to do so.

He was also instrumental in taking a vote on the day "to keep her here or let her go".

Mr Gillane said this was a vote on what to do with another human being. It did not matter that Mr Murphy voted for the second option, to slow march in front of the car.

This, he said, was another form of confinement. It was not democracy it was a betrayal or inversion of democracy.

Defence counsel argued that the men had taken part in a peaceful political protest and could not be held responsible for the violence of others that day.

They said the protest has been infiltrated and hijacked by others with an ulterior motive.

They said their clients had obstructed a vehicle but their actions did not amount to false imprisonment.

They said Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell were placed in the cars on garda advice and remained in the cars on the same advice.

Any threat to their safety was not caused by the six men on trial, they said.

They also said it was unprecedented for political protesters to be charged with such a serious offence and said there were a range of lesser offences available under the Public Order Act.

They also criticised the handling of the protest by gardaí and said they were looking for someone to blame for their mistakes.

Gardaí were accused of being heavy handed when they arrested some of the accused men in "dawn raids" on their homes.

Defence counsel said Paul Murphy had been targeted for who he was rather than what he had done and it was bizarre that he and councillor Michael Murphy, who had been proposing a solution to the problem, on the day ended up on trial.

In her charge to the jury on Monday, Judge Melanie Greally said the key issues to decide were whether or not the protest was peaceful, was Ms Burton merely obstructed or delayed, or was there total restraint with no other means to leave the area, and if so, did the six men on trial do this intentionally.

At the start of the trial in April all six pleaded not guilty to falsely imprisoning Ms Burton and Ms O'Connell in Jobstown in Dublin on 15 November 2014.

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, who is 34 and from Kingswood Heights in Tallaght, Councillor Michael Murphy, who is 53 and from Whitechurch Way in Ballyboden in Dublin, Councillor Kieran Mahon, who is 39 and from Bolbrook Grove in Tallaght, 34-year-old Scott Masterson, from Carrigmore Drive in Tallaght, 71-year-old Frank Donaghy from Alpine Rise in Tallaght, and 46-year-old Michael Banks from Brookview Green in Tallaght.

The charges against 50-year-old Ken Purcell from Kiltalown Green in Tallaght were dropped at an earlier stage in the trial.