The prolific Shell to Sea activist Maura Harrington faced dangerous driving, assault, and public order charges at Belmullet District Court on Wednesday, while her brother also appeared on foot of public order charges.
The first case, which was part heard last year, regarded public order incidents involving Maura Harrington, Tullyaghanbawn, Geesala, Belmullet, and Sean Harrington, Toorglass, Belmullet, while President Mary McAleese officially opened the arts centre in the Belmullet Civic Centre on April 21 2007.
Both are accused of obstruction and threatening and abusive behaviour. Defending solicitor Alan Gannon recapped on previous Garda evidence, which accused Ms Harrington of moving “determinedly towards the President” before being ejected by Sergeant Dermot Butler, who claims he was kicked in the shins as Ms Harrington struggled violently. It was also claimed by gardaí that Mr Harrington, who was outside when the incident happened, got involved in the altercation when he saw his sister being removed from the premises.
Sean Harrington told the court that he was attending a Shell to Sea protest that day and had entered the building before the President and her entourage walked past. The defendant said that he was confronted by Sergeant James Gill before he saw his sister, who had been standing inside the door with a folded newspaper, being ejected by Sgt Butler “for no reason”. Mr Harrington said that he did not get involved with any altercation as he was “caught in a grip” by Sgt Gill. “As I was propelled out,” Mr Harrington claims that his foot was trapped in the door, which caused him to hurt his foot and that was the reason that he was shouting and roaring.
Witness for the defence, Mary McCarthy, who was outside when the incident happened, said she saw Ms Harrington being lifted out by gardaí, but didn’t see her kick her feet, and she also saw Mr Harrington being ejected and pulled along. Ian McAndrew, chairperson of the arts centre, also placed Mr Harrington inside the civic centre before the President arrived.
Mr Gannon said there was no other evidence from those attending the reception, nor was their a complaint from the President’s security. He said that the independent witnesses called by the defence highlight a benefit of doubt for the defence. Judge Mary Devins adjourned both cases to February 11 for mention.
Dangerous driving during slow protest
The next case involving Maura Harrington was in relation to dangerous driving in Glencullen, Bangor on May 30 2007, with Harrington pleading guilty to the offence.
Garda Myles Burke told the court that at 4.15pm there was a report of a slow protest by Shell to Sea activists who were driving in front of Roadbridge lorries who were involved in peat haulage from the refinery.
Garda Burke waited on the roadside for the protest to arrive and saw Ms Harrington’s blue van driving in front of the six vehicles — three lorries and vehicles of protesters interspersed between them.
Harrington was observed accelerating before completing a three point turn on a bend of a road. This manoeuvre caused the lorry behind to break hard and suddenly.
Harrington then drove back in the direction in which she came before gardaí followed and stopped her.
The defendant told the court that she thought she had the space to do the three point turn near a layby, on what she referred to as “the oil road”, but said “I don’t quite agree that my actions caused the lorry to brake,” as it was already “uncomfortably close behind me.”
Judge Devins adjourned the matter to February 11.
Slapped garda across the face
Harrington also faced a section two assault on now retired Garda Eamon Berry on June 11 2007 during a protest at Pullathomas Pier.
Garda Berry told the court that during his sixth day working in Belmullet at a protest, he arrived at around 4pm or 5pm at the pier, where somewhere between 50 to 100 protesters were surrounding a mechanical digger that was bringing a portacabin to the slipway. It was while he was standing at the rear of the machine at around 6pm with three other gardaí that Harrington walked up to him without any provocation and “hit me with her open hand on the left side of my face”.
Garda Berry said that he had not spoken to her on that day nor had any previous dealings with her but “it showed the level of contempt” she had to a member of An Garda Siochana “to walk up to me, slap me across the face, and walk away.” The garda said that he felt “humiliated” by the incident and that it was a most “unexpected event”.
Following the incident the machine was brought through the gates to the pier, with Garda Berry on top of it. Garda Berry claims that while on the machine he saw the defendant “who is quite distinctive” hit another garda, however no complaint was ever made by this garda.
Sgt Butler told the court that he was beside Garda Berry when Harrington hit him. Sgt Butler said that Garda Berry’s reaction was to say to the defendant “you shouldn’t have done that” but “she laughed and walked off.”
Mr Gannon said that Harrington wanted to show video footage in court before she gave oral evidence. Mr Gannon told the judge that he was only made aware of this tape the night before the court and had not seen its contents. Judge Devins asked why it was only brought to his attention now as it was the fifth court appearance for this case. The judge said that the court has allowed a lot of games and attitude from Shell to Sea protesters in the court, but was not letting the court be abused in this fashion. The judge said she would not allow the footage to be shown, which was not a certified original copy and which the defence had not seen. The judge added that it was “not credible” that the tape was of such importance to the defence that it would impede her giving oral evidence as Harrington was aware of this tape “many, many months ago.”
Judge Devins said that she wished to consider the evidence and law and also adjourned the matter to February 11.
Slung mud at gardaí
The last case, which was only part heard on Wednesday, was for public order charges against Harrington for threatening and abusive behaviour on a public main road at Barr na Coilleadh on June 11 at 7.30pm.
Supt Joe Gannon, who was in charge of the Belmullet District at that time, gave evidence that Harrington threw boggy material at him, Sgt Gill, and Sgt Martin Murphy. Supt Gannon said that he avoided the first hit and deflected the second missile.
The superintendent described the atmosphere as calm at the stage when the incident happened but “wasn’t surprised” as he was 10 or 11 months policing at that stage and was well aware of what “she was capable of,” adding that she was “opportunistic” and “played to the gallery”.
Garda Myles Burke showed an unedited, certified true copy of footage of the incident, which had the time and date embedded on it, to the court. The footage showed Harrington throwing clumps of mud and then turn to the garda camera with what Judge Devins described as “a beaming smile”. Some of the crowd were heard cheering before Harrington tried to wipe her hands on Garda Burke and Detective Garda Noel Brett.
Mr Gannon said the incident was not threatening but “a jovial prank”, however, the superintendent said that this incident could have “provided the ignition” for further public order incidents as there was “serious staring” and “verbal threats” by members of the crowd. Judge Mary Devins adjourned the case, which was part heard, to February 11.