The decision to charge the Jobstown 27, including Paul Murphy TD, is a clear escalation in the level of political policing that has marked the entire water charges campaign.
The fact that it comes now, almost a year after the alleged offence and in the run up to an election is clear proof of this. So too is the fact that it coincides with the decision to prosecute the Crumlin 13, including Joan Collins TD.
Then there is the nature of the charges. ‘Unlawful imprisonment’, which carries a possible life sentence, is obviously a completely over the top and absurd response to a mass sitdown protest.
Similarly the prosecution of the Crumlin 13 is for an action – standing peacefully on the pavement blocking water meter installation – which is entirely legitimate and has been taking place on estates across the country for more than a year now.
This comes on top of the conviction of Brian O’Boyle of People Before Profit in Sligo on the ludicrous charge of ‘threatening behaviour’ simply for arguing with an Irish Water employee.
And it goes hand-in-hand with Operation Mizen, a team led by Detective Superintendent Jim McGowan, husband of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, which has spent six months spying on campaigners compiling profiles on them and their whereabouts.
Paul Murphy Anti-Austerity Alliance TD says:
The development of the anti-water charges movement has shown the power of the 99% in this country over the last year. We are on the brink of a major victory against water charges, because of a mass protest movement and because a tactic of civil disobedience, of mass non-payment, was adopted by a majority of people. The serious criminal charges and extensive use of police against protesters represent an attack on that movement and an attempt to intimidate people from challenging the establishment in the future. It won’t work.”
And Cllr Brid Smith of People Before Profit comments:
It is obvious that having failed to persuade the Irish people to accept or pay water charges and failed to get the great anti-water charges movement to go away the government is now resorting to coercion and intimidation.
Their aim is to demonise water charges protesters with the aim of dividing the movement and driving people away. At the same time they want to criminalise all forms of peaceful civil disobedience.”
This is far from being the first time the Irish State has used the Gardai in this way. In reality we have a long history of using the police to intimidate activists and criminalise dissent.
The official narrative is that the Irish State was founded by brave revolutionaries – when in fact it was founded by the counter revolution who reacted against the revolution that ended British rule in the 26 counties.
The first Irish Government- Cumman na nGaedheal – was deeply conservative .They set themselves the task of consolidating the Irish State machine and bringing the social revolt of the revolutionary years to an end.
Seventy seven Republican and anti-capitalist agitators where shot without trial, and army pensioners were used to break up strikes. When the Minster for Justice Kevin O’Higgins established the police force they were immediately set to work intimidating Republican activists and striking workers.
This new elite saw the State treasury as a source of the capital necessary to kick start their business empires. Tight networks developed between the political dynasties, the economic elite and the State. Cronyism and corruption are built into all capital societies but particularly in Ireland given the history and development of the State.
The Irish State therefore built up an apparatus of surveillance to monitor threats to the elite Golden circle. The excuse was that they had to keep an eye on the IRA- but once such a system of police spying and intimidation existed it could be turned on all those who opposed the system.
The recent GSOC scandal gave a glimpse under the rock. The Garda Ombudsman – where people take complaints against police criminality- was being spied on. Garda Special Branch, the Defence Forces Intelligence Branch (G2) and the Revenue Commissioners all have legal powers to engage in surveillance.
Cases of police intimidation of activists are numerous- from the shooting of activists after the War of Independence to the beating of Shell to Sea protesters in Mayo. Time and again the courts have been used as a weapon to slap injunctions on striking workers such as the Greyhound workers and the MTL dockers.
But we don’t have to sit back and take this. What our rulers fear most is masses on the streets.
The water charges movement forced the Government to concede ground massively and it can do so again. We have to respond to the court cases with the mobilisation of all those involved in the Right2Water movement.
This means a mass demonstration at the court when the Jobstown and Crumlin cases both come up on Monday 2 November. If anyone is jailed the protest movement will need to be stepped up even further.
The water movement has given people confidence and the 57% non-payment testifies to the strength of opposition to Irish Water. While supporting those under threat from the State we have to continue to build mass non-payment in our communities.
We also have to challenge the political elite in the coming election by voting for radical left candidates who will build the movement on the streets and continue this fight until we dismantle the repressive mechanisms of the Irish State.