Irish state criminalises right to protest

Anti-water charges demonstrators – arrested following a peaceful sit-down protest in Jobstown, near Dublin, against the then deputy prime minister (Labour’s Joan Burton), in November 2014 – are now facing ludicrous charges of “false imprisonment”.

Socialist Party members protesting outside London's Irish embassy against persecution of the Jobstown protesters, photo by Neil Cafferky

Socialist Party members protesting outside London’s Irish embassy against persecution of the Jobstown protesters, photo by Neil Cafferky   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Paul Murphy, TD (MP), Dublin South West

The first Jobstown protester charged with false imprisonment is on trial today (19 September). Next year, another 18 face charges, which could result in sentences up to life imprisonment!

These are the most serious political trials in decades. They threaten the right of people to protest.

The actions of the state leading up to these trials lay bare how it operates to defend the interests of the 1%. The context is one of a mass movement of civil disobedience against water charges, which has now succeeded in forcing their suspension and the collapse of support for the traditional political establishment parties.

Ruling class

The ruling class in Ireland is looking at a scary vista of further social movements, the rise of the left, and the possibility of more victories for working people which will further embolden them. It therefore acted – with hundreds of arrests, the jailing of anti-water meter protesters and Jobstown – to send a message and try to dampen down that protest.

The choreographing of two weeks of dawn raids in February 2015, with many Gardai (police) arresting protesters, was a key part of this. The leaks to RTE (state media broadcaster) by the Gardai were also designed to criminalise the protesters in the eyes of people.

This happened simultaneously to the revelations about Operation Mizen – a police spying operation against anti-water charges protesters. The state forces were marshalled and used in trying to assist the imposition of water charges – a key part of the ruling class’ agenda for shifting the taxation burden and privatisation. A particular feature of this trial has been the trial by media and politicians already deployed to try to shape public opinion.


These trials are sending a message that protesting is criminal and that activists are criminals. That is why the old adage “an injury to one is an injury to all” is applicable here.

Faced with a hostile media and state, the community of Jobstown needs all the assistance and solidarity that can be gathered.

This needs to become a major movement of working class communities and young people to defend the protesters. Anyone who wants the right to protest in the future needs to defend the right to protest now, by defending Jobstown!