Workers Hammer No. 239

Autumn 2017


Ireland: Water charges protesters acquitted!

DUBLIN — Cheers broke out in a Dublin courtroom on 29 June when a jury unanimously returned a not guilty verdict in the trial of six protesters outrageously charged with the “false imprisonment” of then-Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connell in November 2014. The charges arose from a protest in Jobstown, Tallaght, a suburb of Dublin, against the Irish capitalist government’s attempts to introduce charges for domestic water use — a regressive tax which disproportionately impacts working-class families. During the protest, a number of people had sat down on the road in front of the Tánaiste’s car. This simple act of civil disobedience, which allegedly delayed Burton and O’Connell for a couple of hours, was the basis for the bogus charge of false imprisonment. Carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, the charge is normally applied in cases of kidnapping or rape — it had never before been used against protesters.

Upon walking free from court, the acquitted protesters — Michael Banks, Frank Donaghy, Kieran Mahon, Scott Masterson, Michael Murphy and Paul Murphy (as well as a seventh man, Ken Purcell, the charges against whom were dropped towards the end of the prosecution case) — were greeted with cheers and chants of “No way! We won’t pay!” Paul Murphy is a TD [MP] for Solidarity (formerly the Anti-Austerity Alliance), the electoral vehicle of the reformist Socialist Party, and both Kieran Mahon and Michael Murphy are Solidarity councillors, while Masterson is an activist with the left-wing Republican group éirígí. The Partisan Defence Committee, a legal and social defence organisation associated with the Spartacist League, wrote to the Irish Department of Justice and Equality denouncing the prosecution of the Jobstown protesters and made a contribution to the Jobstown Not Guilty campaign. We welcome the not guilty verdict, which was a resounding victory for the right to protest and an embarrassing defeat for the government.

However, another eleven protesters are still facing trial, nine of them on these very same bogus charges. Moreover, several juveniles have been hauled before the non-jury Children’s Court on various charges arising from the Jobstown protest. A 16-year-old received a six-month prison sentence after being convicted of damaging a window of an unmarked police car. Last year, a judge convicted a 17-year-old, who was only 15 at the time of the protest, of false imprisonment. Although he did not receive a custodial sentence, the young man now has a criminal conviction hanging around his neck. We demand the dropping of all outstanding charges and the immediate overturn of the juveniles’ convictions!

The acquitted Jobstown defendants were fortunate to be tried by a jury and not a non-jury court like the Special Criminal Court. The Irish ruling class has long used the Special Criminal Court to imprison those it perceives as “enemies of the state”, especially Irish Republicans, and recently opened a second such court, despite the relative lack of major Republican activity. The courts, the police, prisons and military are the core of the capitalist state, which exists to defend the rule and wealth of the bourgeoisie. Trial by a jury “of one’s peers” is nonetheless a democratic right which can provide a modicum of protection against capitalist despotism. Abolish non-jury trials!

The heavy-handed prosecution of the Jobstown protesters reflects the determination of the Irish ruling class to retaliate against activists involved in the massive years-long protests which beat back the attempt to introduce water charges. Protests against water charges drew in wide layers of society, from farmers to the working class and even the urban middle classes. Many of the national protests were huge, with demonstrations in Dublin bringing the city to a standstill. The government was forced to back down and not only scrap the water charges but also refund those who had paid.

Water charges were part of the punitive austerity measures dictated by the “troika” of the EU’s European Commission and European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the economic crisis of 2008. The troika insisted that domestic water supplies should no longer be funded from general taxation, but that each household should be charged individually. Successive governments showed their willingness to carry out EU orders “above and beyond the call of duty”. The bourgeois Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties got stuck in, slashing public sector pay, unemployment benefits, welfare payments and child benefits and depriving thousands of free medical care (see “Ireland ravaged by European economic crisis”, Workers Hammer no 213, Winter 2010-2011). In 2011, the Labour Party entered government with Fine Gael and betrayed the hopes of its working-class base that it would moderate the bourgeoisie’s austerity drive. Instead, Labour ministers like Joan Burton quickly earned themselves reputations as “austerity junkies” and worse.

Water charges came on top of other recently imposed regressive taxes, including bin charges and a property tax. The amounts involved in these taxes were insignificant for the wealthy but truly onerous for workers. The Irish ruling class relished the opportunity to shift even more taxes onto working people while preserving Ireland’s deserved reputation as a tax haven for the bourgeoisie and multinational companies.

The EU is an imperialist bloc led by Germany which subjugates dependent European countries such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal and those of Eastern Europe. It serves to co-ordinate attacks on the working class and immigrants all across Europe. Consistent with the EU’s drive to privatise any and all public services, the government established a semi-state company, Irish Water, laying the basis for future privatisation. Having already privatised refuse collection across Ireland, the EU and the government are now targeting public transport. Down with the EU! For a workers Europe!

Capitalist state: enemy of workers and oppressed

The Jobstown protesters were especially targeted by the state because they were mostly working-class and several were leftists. Prior to and during the trial, the government and their thugs-in-blue made it very clear that they wanted all defendants thrown in prison. Just two days after the protest, then-Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny stated that the protest “almost amounted to kidnapping”. The arrests were carried out in dawn raids. One man was arrested while getting his kids ready for school; three squad cars full of cops were involved in the arrest of a 14-year-old. Paul Murphy rightly pointed out that communities were “being terrorised by the actions of gardaí” (Irish police).

The bourgeois media also made it very clear that they stood with the government. The Irish Times was positively sickened by the not guilty verdicts. Throughout the trial, the defendants and their supporters had taken to social media to counter the lies and disinformation of the prosecution and its media mouthpieces. Aiming to forestall such successful defence tactics in the upcoming trial of another six defendants, the trial judge, Melanie Greally, issued a sinister warning “that there is no right for anyone to express themselves over social media in relation to an ongoing trial” (Irish Independent, 28 July). Judge Greally has even threatened to alter bail conditions to include a ban on the use of social media in relation to the trial. No to any gagging orders!

Throughout the trial, gardaí were caught out giving evidence that was contradicted by video footage. Indeed, the “evidence” given by the cops was so dubious that the judge even had to advise the jury that the video footage “be regarded by you as the primary and most reliable source”. While the police witnesses tried to portray Paul Murphy, in particular, as a thuggish ringleader egging on a supposedly violent crowd, the video showed him attempting to calm down the protesters.

It is no surprise to Marxists that the cops would so openly attempt to stitch up anybody resisting the diktats of capitalist rule. The capitalist state is not some neutral arbiter between the interests of the different classes but exists to enforce the rule of the bourgeoisie. The role of the cops includes breaking strikes and terrorising the oppressed. The cops regularly target Republicans and mete out brutal violence against the homeless, immigrants (or anybody deemed “foreign”) and Travellers. In late June, a unit of gardaí armed with assault rifles stormed a Traveller halting site in North Dublin. The residents, including young teenagers, had guns pointed at their heads and were handcuffed and forced to lie on the ground. These events only came to light because one of the residents and victims was John Connors, a well-known actor and social activist. As another resident aptly put it, the cops treated the Travellers “like dogs”.

The Socialist Party actively conceal the class nature of the capitalist state, even when their own supporters are on the receiving end of its repression. At a press conference the day after his acquittal, TD Paul Murphy called for the Minister for Justice to establish “a public inquiry to ask the question about how did this conspiracy take place” to stitch up the Jobstown protesters. Even a liberal commentator like Fintan O’Toole recognised that “there is a much more obvious explanation” for the prosecutions than a political conspiracy. “It’s social class”, he pointed out in the Irish Times (4 July), further noting: “Prisons are mostly for the poor.”

The Socialist Party claim the police and prison guards are “workers in uniform” that should be part of the trade union movement. They even went so far as to call for support to a threatened “strike” in October 2016 by the ominous Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents over 10,000 cops (see “Ireland: CWI hustles for cops”, Workers Hammer no 238, Spring 2017). In addition to demanding more cops and higher pay, the GRA has campaigned for more widespread use of weapons, including Tasers and submachine guns. The government quickly acquiesced to the demands of its thugs, handing over ¤50 million for pay increases and, within months, launching a new Armed Support Unit. Cops and prison guards don’t belong in the unions!

The Socialist Party’s touching faith in the guard dogs of the capitalist rulers flows from their reformist programme. They seek to use the mass protests against water charges, bin charges, property tax etc to bring about “a left government”. No matter how “left” it might be, any government established through a bourgeois parliament would still be a capitalist government and would be responsible for overseeing the exploitation and oppression inherent to the capitalist system. As Karl Marx explained in his analysis of the Paris Commune of 1871, the first seizure of power by the proletariat, “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” (The Civil War in France, 1871).

The only way to justice and liberation for the workers and oppressed is through socialist revolution led by the advanced layers of the proletariat organised in a revolutionary party and involving the formation of workers councils (soviets) and workers militias. Such a revolution, like the Russian October Revolution of 1917, would sweep away the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, expropriate their wealth and establish the rule of the working class: a workers state that would suppress the former ruling class and fight for the spread of the revolution internationally. For an Irish workers republic, part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles!