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Natural Resource Activists Await Judgement

Wednesday’s (January 9) trial of three men in Belmullet district court, county Mayo was a mixture of the farcical, the bizarre and the downright sinister. 

The three, Dominic McGlinchey (Derry), Rab Jackson (Belfast) and Cathal Larkin (Cork), were in front of the court on charges arising out of a Shell to Sea protest on November 9 last year.  Both Jackson and McGlinchey joined the éirígí contingent which had travelled that day to Mayo in response to a call for help from the local community.  All three were facing charges of blocking a public roadway and obstructing the Gardai in the prosecution of their duty.

Garda witness after Garda witness was grilled by defence solicitor Alan Gannon, who successfully exposed contradictions, inaccuracies and unusual levels of forgetfulness from the state witnesses.

Garda Inspector Byrne
The first to enter the witness box was an Inspector Byrne, who told the court that he was the second in command of the Garda operation on the day of the protest.  Despite his seniority, Byrne was unable to state exactly how many Gardaí were under his control on the day in question and could only estimate the number at about 70.

When questioned about the Garda plan for the day of the protest, the Inspector outlined how a line of Gardaí took up position along the central white line on the road that runs from Bellanaboy Bridge to the main gate of the Shell refinery site.  This cordon was intended to keep protesters on one side of the carriageway and allow traffic to pass on the other side.

In evidence Byrne outlined how dozens of protesters bypassed this line of Gardaí to stage a sit-down protest in front of a lorry which was attempting to make its way along the road, in the direction of the main entrance to the Shell site.  The lorry in question was owned by Lennon Quarries, a company which has been centrally involved in Shell’s construction work.

Inspector Byrne outlined how he used the Public Order Act to direct the protesters engaged in the sit-down protest to return to the other side of the carriageway.  He then ordered the unknown number of Gardaí who were under his control to start removing protesters from the road.  When asked what professional training he had in relation to the handling of public order events or of sit-down protests Byrne conceded that he had none.

Garda O’Keefe Versus Rab Jackson
Garda Joe O’Keefe, prosecuting Rab Jackson, who was the next state witness, blatantly contradicted his own written statement in which he had claimed that the accused had “kicked’ out” at Gardaí while being arrested.  In court on Wednesday he refused to support his own accusation of kicking, but instead stated that Rab had resisted while being physically removed from the road.  When pressed on what form this resistance took, Garda O’Keefe conceded that the accused had simply stood up and attempted to rejoin the sit-down protest.

As the cross-examination of Garda O’Keefe continued for close to an hour, his answer of “I don’t recall” began to take on a mantra-like quality.  For example, while admitting that he had seen a Garda operating a video-camera mounted on a stick, O’Keefe was unable to estimate how far away he himself was from this camera.  He was also unable to confirm or deny that he had pushed some protesters into a ditch on the opposite side of the road to which the sit-down protest was occurring.  Similarly, O’Keefe couldn’t estimate how many protesters he had personally removed from the road.  While conceding that many of the protesters had repeatedly rejoined the sit-down protest, the witness was unable to estimate how many had actually done so or answer why it was that he arrested only one of them – Rab Jackson.

While denying that his lack of recollection was due to the fact that he was drunk at the time of the protest, O’Keefe admitted that he had “two pints” in Roscommon on the evening prior to the protest.  He had passed through Roscommon as he travelled with two other Gardaí from Kilkenny, where he was normally based.

When it was put to him by Alan Gannon that he had drunk considerably more than two pints on the Thursday evening prior to the protest, O’Keefe denied it, but he did concede that many protesters had accused him of being drunk on the day of the protest.  This evidence was backed up by video evidence shown to the court later in the day in which many voices can be heard clearly stating that O’Keefe was drunk and overly aggressive.

In his evidence, Rab Jackson outlined that he had travelled to Mayo in response to a call for help from the local community.  While accepting that he himself was not a scientist he stated that he believed that the Shell refinery was damaging to the health of the people of the area, both in the pollution of local drinking water and in the risks posed by a high pressure gas pipeline.

While Rab accepted that he had sat down on the road and thus blocked the path of the Lennon Quarries vehicle, he believed that he had just cause in doing so given the risk to human health and safety that the Shell refinery represented.  He expanded, stating that as an Irish citizen he believed it was the correct thing to do.  When asked if he had “kicked out” at Gardaí, or prevented the Gardaí from performing their duty Rab denied doing so.

Questioned as to what specialist training he had received, O’Keefe responded that he had received a week of such training as part of his basic training in Templemore Garda College.  Pressed on the nature of this specialist training, the witness stated that he and other Gardaí were taught how to “form a line”.  O’Keefe had received no training with regard to dealing with sit-down protests.

Garda Séamus Philips Versus Dominic McGlinchey
While many of Joe O’Keefe’s responses had elicited smirks and suppressed giggles of laughter from the public gallery, the evidence of Garda Séamus Philips, prosecuting Dominic McGlinchey, resulted in stunned silence and sharp intakes of breath.

Having outlined that he had been drafted to Mayo on a temporary transfer from Galway for the purpose of the protest, Philips went on to explain how he had “observed” Dominic McGlinchey for a period of only a few minutes, possibly, before he arrested the accused.  When outlining what he had seen during this period, Philips stated that Dominic had been repeatedly removed by Gardaí from the sit-down protest.

When asked whether other protesters were doing the same thing as the accused he conceded that up to 90 per cent of what he estimated at 30 protesters were, indeed, repeatedly returning to the sit-down protest.  When  asked why he hadn’t arrested any of these 27 people, Philips said that his focus was on the accused alone.

In his written statement Garda Philips stated that part of the reason that he arrested the accused was because he didn’t believe that the name of the accused was actually Dominic McGlinchey.  The issue of whether Philips knew who the accused was prior to his arrest was the subject of considerable cross-examination by the defence.

While the witness maintained throughout that he didn’t know the identity of the accused, it is clear that some Gardaí present on November 9 most certainly did.  In his evidence Dominic himself re-counted how two separate Gardaí had referred to him by name prior to his arrest.  In addition, on the video supplied by the Gardaí themselves the camera operator is clearly heard to state “there’s Dominic McGlinchey,” as Dominic appears on screen.

When questioned how he established the identity of the accused, Philips said that he used “confidential” Garda techniques to do so.  When asked did these techniques involve the use of a telephone he replied that they did.  Defence solicitor Alan Gannon then asked the witness to explain how he could possibly have established the identity of the accused within such a short period of time given that he had no address for, or photograph, of him.  The witness was unable to provide such an explanation.

When questioned about the temperament of the accused when arrested Philips stated that he was uncooperative and refused to provide his address when asked to do so.  This allegation of uncooperativeness was to prove important within a few minutes.

It was at this point that proceedings moved from the farcical to the downright bizarre and sinister.  When it was put to Philips whether he had said to the accused while in Belmullet Garda station that “you have your mother’s eyes and your father’s stubbornness,” he confirmed that he had.  When asked by the defence did he not consider such a remark to be insensitive he responded by saying that he didn’t and it was said in the context of the accused being “chatty”.

Dominic’s mother was horrifically murdered in front of him when he was only eight-years-old.  Dominic also witnessed the murder of his father six years later when he was 15.

Alan Gannon pursued the issue, asking the witness whether he had known Dominic’s mother.  Philips replied that he had not.  When asked how he could possibly see Mrs McGlinchey’s “eyes in the eyes of her son,” Phillips replied that he could remember what she had looked like from a photograph he had seen in a publication.  Quizzed as to when he had last seen such a photo Philips replied “15 or 20 years ago,” although he was unable to tell the court the name of the publication or any other details about the photo.

The defence repeatedly proposed that the witness was fully aware of whom the accused was from before the time of his arrest and, indeed, that he had deliberately singled him out from all of the other protesters for that reason.  In response, the witness denied that he knew the identity of the accused prior to his arrest.

At one point it was explained to Philips that the accused would, in his evidence, refute that he was the arresting officer and that he had, in fact, been arrested by another Garda.  While the witness denied this was the case, video evidence supplied by the Gardaí clearly shows Philips pointing in the direction of Dominic McGlinchey in a manner which one would use to specify an object or individual to anther person.  This was only minutes before the accused was arrested.

When Dominic took the stand he confirmed he had been part of the sit-down protest and that he done so in the interests of the health and safety of the local community.  When questioned by the prosecution he refuted the charge that he had obstructed the Gardaí from performing their duty.  He also rejected the suggestion that Garda Philips was the arresting officer, instead stating that the two Gardaí that had arrested him were considerably younger then Philips.  Dominic went on to state that the first time he had seen Philips was in the Garda van where he was detained prior to being transported to Belmullet Garda station.

Following Dominic’s questioning by the defence, Judge Mary Devins addressed a number of questions to the accused.

Having firstly asked the accused how he had come to hear of the protest the district court judge then went on to ask Dominic did he “know Brian Leeson?”  When Dominic confirmed that he did indeed know a Brian Leeson, Devins asked had he travelled to the protest with him.  When Dominic confirmed that he had done so, Devins proceeded to enquire how someone from Dublin (Brian) and someone from Galway (Dominic) might have travelled together.  Dominic informed the court that he and Brian had met in Ballina prior to the protest and travelled to Bellanaboy from there.  The judge’s line of questioning concluded with her asking for the names of the other people who had travelled in the car with Dominic and Brian.

While it was strange that the judge raised the name of someone who had not been mentioned in evidence at any point during the proceedings, many in the courtroom were stunned to hear the judge ask highly specific questions relating to the movements of that same individual and the accused in the hours prior to the protest despite no information of this kind being mentioned in any written or verbal evidence.

Brian Leeson who is éirígí’s national chairperson acted as bondsman for Rab Jackson at the time of his original arrest.

Cathal Larkin
Cathal Larkin’s case was marked by many of the same features of his co-accused, with the arresting Garda and a second Garda who assisted with the arrest both claiming that Cathal had violently resisted.  The two used the accused’s alleged resistance to justify pulling both of his arms forcefully behind his back and bending him almost double over a fence along the side of the road.

While Cathal admitted that he had taken part in the sit-down protest, believing that increased aluminium levels in Carrowmore Lake could be directly attributed to Shell’s works, he denied attempting to prevent any Garda performing their duties.

Finbar Dwyer, a defence witness, reported that he had witnessed Cathal’s arrest, including the manner in which he was restrained.  Dwyer explained that he had not seen the accused violently resisting the Gardaí.

While the defence had video footage of Cathal’s arrest it was not shown, as Judge Devins deemed that its authenticity could not be relied upon.

Summing Up
In his summing up of the defence case, Alan Gannon identified a number of grounds for acquittal.  On the issue of obstruction of the roadway, Alan argued that the accused freely admitted that they had blocked the road and that they did so with “just cause”.  The public order legislation relating to this offence allows for an individual to stop the free movement of traffic where “just cause” can be established.

In the case of the protest at the Shell site on November 9, Gannon argued that the accused genuinely believe that the works at the Shell site represent a real threat to the health and safety of the people of the surrounding area and, as such, had “just cause” in attempting to stop these works.

Drawing an analogy between the citizen who goes to the aid of a fellow citizen who is under attack and who uses reasonable force to end such an attack, the solicitor stated that the accused had come to Mayo in response to a request for assistance from the local community in Erris.

Gannon referred to the case of the Pitstop Ploughshares, which saw a number of people acquitted of damaging US warplanes in Shannon airport on the basis that the destruction of such equipment had just cause as the accused believed it would save lives in Iraq.

With regard to the charges of obstructing a Garda in the performance of their duty, the defence insisted that the architects of the relevant legislation had not intended for it to used in the manner which the state was attempting to use it.  While the accused might be open to charges of obstructing a road or of refusing to obey the directions of a Garda, it had not been proven that they had actually obstructed the Gardaí in the performance of their duty.

Gannon argued that, had anyone actively prevented the Gardaí from removing others from the road, this may have constituted an act of preventing the Gardaí from performing their duty, but this was not what happened.  What the accused had done was repeatedly join a peaceful sit-down protest, allowing the Gardaí to remove them from the road on each occasion.

A second ground for possible acquittal on the charge of obstructing the Gardaí was then identified.  This related to the wording of the relevant act, which states that an accused must be found guilty of obstructing “a police officer” – that is, an individual, named Garda - from performing their duty.  The prosecution case appeared to be attempting to prove that the defendants had obstructed the Gardaí – as a body as opposed to any individual Garda – from performing their duty.  At no point did any of the state witnesses explain how the accused actually prevented them as individuals from performing their duties.

Having listened to the prosecution and defence cases Judge Devins indicated that she would need some time to consider the issues raised and set the next sitting of Belmullet district court for judgement.

Speaking outside of the court yesterday, éirígí chairperson Brian Leeson commented on the day’s proceedings.

“What we have seen here today are the forces of this state clearly demonstrating whose side they are on and it isn’t the side of the people of Erris or the bulk of the people of Ireland.

“The Gardaí have just added insult to the injuries that they have already inflicted upon thoseBrian Leeson who choose to stand with the people of Erris and against the giveaway of Ireland’s natural resources.  On November 9, I was among hundreds of people who witnessed an extremely heavy-handed Garda operation which saw dozens of people suffering injuries of one description or another.  Today we saw those who perpetrated that violence accuse the victims of being the perpetrators!

“A number of things from today’s proceedings stand out.  Firstly, the level of Garda training with regard to public order events in general and sit-down protests in particular appears to be either non-existent or hopelessly inadequate.  From the second most senior Garda present on the day down, the highest level of training testified to today was that of forming a line!

“Secondly, there is the comment made to Dominic with regard to his deceased parents.  The fact that a Garda thinks that it is ok to make this type of remarks says a lot about the culture of the Gardaí.  The individual that made that remark did not appear to think it was remotely improper.  He made no effort today to explain it or to apologise for the hurt it may have caused.  And, because of the existing culture within the Gardaí he has no reason to believe that he will receive any form of reprimand for it.

“The last point that stood out to me were the series of questions put by Judge Devins to Dominic with regard to who he knew and how he had travelled to the protest.  I stood as bondsman for Rab Jackson back in November, as Judge Devins well knows, as she was the presiding judge on that occasion.

“It strikes me as extremely odd that a judge would ask the accused whether they know a named individual who had not been mentioned by the prosecution or the defence at any point in the proceedings.  What possible purpose could it serve?  Was it to establish that I knew both Rab and Dominic?  If so, what purpose did that serve and what relevance did it have to the cases before the courts today?

“Having established that Dominic and I know each other she then asked him had he and I travelled to the protest together.  She didn’t ask him how he got to the protest; she didn’t ask him had he travelled to the protest alone; she didn’t ask him had he travelled to the protest with Rab Jackson; she didn’t ask had he travelled to the protest with Cathal Larkin; she didn’t ask him did he know anyone else at the protest; – all of which it could be argued were reasonable background questions to the evidence that Dominic had provided.  She asked none of these questions – she asked two very specific questions – namely did Dominic know me and did he travel to the protest with me.

“The fact that Dominic and I travelled to the protest together from Ballina was not submitted in evidence by either the defence or the prosecution.  The reality is that we only finalised our plans by mobile phone after we were both on the way to Mayo from our respective homes.  Very few people know that we travelled together, beyond those who were in the car, a few close friends and the Gardaí manning a checkpoint that we passed through en route to the protest.

“Today we saw that the forces of law and order in this state are willing to lie in order to protect the interests of Shell.  By this time next month we will know whether the judiciary in this state are willing to accept those lies as truth and punish those who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens.”

 

 

 

 

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