Solidarity with Dublin Port striker facing charges following protest

The prosecution of Gerard McDonnell over a protest in 2009 is shameful. It is not only an attempt to criminalise a worker who was engaged in a legitimate protest; it is also a disgraceful waste of Gardaí and Court resources. The fact that Gardaí in Store Street are pursuing this, while failing to tackle drug dealing, anti social behaviour and gangland feuds on their own doorstep is inexcusable.

Gerard McDonnell was one of the workers involved in the 2009 MTL dispute. Strike action took place to save jobs and to preserve working conditions that had been won by workers in Dublin Port. After 8 harsh months, following intervention from the International Transport Workers Federation (I.T.F), the strike was ended. While jobs were saved at MTL, a number of redundancies still took place. Amongst those who lost their job was Gerard McDonnell, now aged 63. To add insult to injury, Gerard was arrested in March and charged with potentially serious offences relating to events which occurred at the height of the strike.

Dublin Port was traditionally a major employer for the local communities North and South of the Liffey. These communities united to support the striking Dockers, as did many other workers and trade unionists. As you may remember, a number of demonstrations and protest actions took place. On the 27th August 2009 a “floating picket” took place involving a small number of boats in the harbour. Despite the fact that this was over a year and a half ago, and the strike long ended Gerard McDonnell was recently arrested and charged in relation to this event. He is facing 3 separate charges under the Maritime Safety Act 2005 and the Harbours Act 1996, which are potentially serious (carrying a possible fine of up to £250,000). Gerard is contesting all the charges, but this is an ordeal that he should not have to suffer. He should not have been arrested, handcuffed and put in a cell – he is not a criminal. He is an ordinary worker who stood up for workers rights, and for this he is being punished.

Last summer, a number of former strikers were interviewed by the Gardaí in relation to the “floating picket”, which had taken place the year before. Some of those questioned were visited at home, and one was approached by Gardaí while working in MTL. A number of interviews took place following requests from the Gardaí (and acting on legal advice). One of those interviewed was Gerard McDonnell senior.

Gerard was contacted by the Gardaí and asked to present himself at the Bridewell on Friday 18th February, which he complied with. Here he was arrested, charged, and taken to the Court of Criminal Justice by van. He was briefly handcuffed and spent some time in a cell, before being brought before the court. Gerard has since had two further Court appearances at the Criminal Court of Justice, and the case has now been transferred to the Circuit Court. A date for the case to be heard in full will shortly be scheduled.

There are serious questions to be answered as to why this prosecution is taking place. Both the Dublin Port Company and MTL/Peel Ports have confirmed that they are not a party to any such legal action. They quite rightly recognise that there is nothing to gain by raising tensions. It appears that the Gardaí are alone in pursuing this prosecution, and their reasons for doing this are unclear. What do they hope to gain in intervening in an already settled Industrial dispute, and what is their motive in pursuing workers in this manner?
Throughout the strike I supported the workers, and took part in the numerous demonstrations and protests organised by the Dublin Port Workers Support Group. I have continued this support, and have raised concerns with senior Gardaí, following the initial questioning of the former strikers, and again following the arrest and charging of Gerard McDonnell.

Following a meeting of the Joint Policing Committee in March, where I once again voiced my opinion, I commented: “This case is a disgraceful waste of police resources, and I find it incredible that the Gardaí from Store Street have the time to pursue this case. Open drug dealing is an everyday occurance in their jurisdiction, some of it almost in sight of the station. The gangland feud in Sheriff Street is still brewing, and anti social behaviour is rife. These are real crimes, and surely these should be their priority, not the harassment of a decent working man”.

The strong, community based support for the MTL strikers has continued , with very well attended demonstrations in solidarity with Gerard in his court appearances. With a court date for a full hearing shortly to be announced, this community solidarity will no doubt continue, and I will continue to do what I can to assist.