‘Social conscience’ schoolboy pleads not guilty to an imprisonment charge
By Tom Tuite
AN award-winning 17-year-old honours schoolboy with a “social conscience” has pleaded not guilty to false imprisonment of Tánaiste Joan Burton and one of her advisors during the Jobstown protest.
The Leaving Cert student is accused of falsely imprisoning the Labour leader and her political advisor Karen O’Connell during the water protest at the Fortunestown Road in Jobstown in Tallaght, Dublin, on November 15, 2014.
Gardaí allege that violence broke out while the Tánaiste and her entourage were trapped in a ministerial car for about three hours after they had attended a graduation ceremony.
On Monday, the boy appeared again at the Dublin Children’s Court for a preliminary hearing to deal with the issue of jurisdiction.
This was to determine whether the case would be kept in the juvenile court or instead go to the Circuit Court which has tougher sentencing powers.
After hearing an outline of the facts and defence submissions, Judge John O’Connor accepted jurisdiction, meaning his trial, in which the Labour leader may have to give evidence, will be heard in the juvenile court. A date for the hearing is to be set on a later date.
Det Garda Paul Smith of Tallaght station told the court it was alleged that the teenager was one of the main instigators. He said the Tánaiste could not move forward and was assaulted and was “very disturbed by the whole situation”. Her advisor Karen O’Connor “suffered a panic and anxiety attack in the car,” said Det Garda Smith.
It was alleged the youth, then aged 15, prevented the free movement of the Tánaiste’s car and “detained her in a particular place without her consent”.
There are nine civilian witnesses and 10 garda witnesses, the court heard.
It lasted for three-and-a-half hours until Garda managed to get her moving, the court was told. Det Garda Smith told Judge O’Connor that witnesses said that the teenager was “one of the instigators” and shouted abuse at the Tánaiste calling her a c**t. It was alleged he was using a megaphone and was trying to get people to prevent the free movement of the car.
One garda allegedly heard the teenager say: “We’ll block this exit in case she tries to escape.” Det Garda Smith said it was alleged that he was trying to get close to her and was abusive and was running in front calling her names.
He also said that when arrested the teenager was apologetic for the distress he caused to Joan Burton.
Defence counsel Imelda Kelly (instructed by solicitor Michael Finucane) pleaded for the case to remain in the juvenile court. Otherwise she said he would be tried along with 19 adult co-defendants in the circuit court. He would not face trial until 2017, she argued.
She said the teen, who was accompanied to court by his mother, was an honours student who has been getting top marks in all his subjects.
It is not alleged that he was involved in violence and this was different from other false imprisonment cases, she argued. She said the Tánaiste said, in her statement, alleged the youth was “floating around” and Ms O’Connell made no reference to the teen at all in her complaint.
Counsel also said that the teen has a social conscience and is involved in community and charity work, helping the homeless and the elderly, and he had received awards for this.
Counsel also asked the court to note the boy’s age at the time and that had not come to the attention of gardaí previously. The DPP had also recommended that this case should be dealt with in the Children’s Court.
The teenager spoke briefly to tell the judge he had done his mock exams and to say he did not understand the court process. The judge explained his ruling after which the boy said: “I appreciate that, thank you.”
Prior to the hearing last Monday gardaí had been ordered to provide disclosure of 50 to 60 hours of video evidence and 300 statements.
Five other juvenile males are currently before the Children’s Court in connection with the protest. Last month, one pleaded not guilty to a violent disorder charge and had an April trial date set.
Two other youths pleaded guilty in January to violent disorder charges and had their sentencing adjourned to see if the Tánaiste and her political advisor wanted to give victim impact statements. Another youth is also awaiting sentence in March, while the youngest defendant, a 15-year-old boy who was aged 13 at the time, is due back in court in this week to enter a plea to a violent disorder charge.
In December, Paul Murphy TD was sent for trial accused of false imprisonment of the Labour leader and her advisor. The DPP consented to him and 18 other people being returned for trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
They face a variety of charges which include false imprisonment, violent disorder and criminal damage to garda cars. They will make their next court appearance in March.