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Anti Austerity Alliance to "strongly consider" constitutional action against collections ban

The alliance says that the ban on door-to-door collections is “political policing” and is hampering their “development”.

20151022_121848 John Donnellan and Joe Higgins outside the Four Courts this afternoon Source: Cianan Brennan/TheJournal.ie

Updated 16.20

THE ANTI AUSTERITY Alliance is “strongly considering” launching High Court proceedings against the constitutionality of a pending decision as to whether or not they be allowed collect for political donations door-to-door in advance of the election.

The AAA was up in front of the District Court today in appeal of a decision by Crumlin Garda Chief Superintendent Orla McPartlin to deny them a permit to collect door-to-door as the campaign heats up. TDs Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins together with party candidate for Dublin Central Diana O’Dwyer and Dublin South West member John Donnellan (who was a named appellant in today’s action) were in attendance.

Following the adjournment of the hearing until next month, the party’s representatives who were present in court outlined why they are leaning towards an action on the constitutionality of McPartlin’s decision.

“The Chief Superintendent made her decision because she thinks donations may lead to unlawful protests. That is pure speculation on her part,” said Donnellan, a member of the AAA in Dublin South West.

Our right to protest is guaranteed under the Constitution. But that is besides the point, the raising of funds is absolutely critical, we’ve two candidates to run in Dublin South West.

Coppinger further asserted that the act under which the AAA have been denied a permit (the Street and House to House Collections Act 1962) is “unconstitutional”, while O’Dwyer said that the decision by McPartlin was “yet another example of political policing”.

“We need funds to stand candidates to put forward our alternatives in the election, and this could hamper our development, so we are strongly considering a constitutional challenge to this,” Coppinger said.

Hearing

During the unusual hearing the AAA, represented by barrister David Langwallner, contended to judge Michael Coughlan that once Superintendent McPartlin testified that she had arrived at the decision to deny a collections permit the judge must strike out the AAA’s appeal. That would then pave the way for a High Court action against the act that necessitates such a decision.

“It’s all duck or no dinner,” Langwallner said in his submission.

The Alliance have been refused permission for door-to-door collection permits in Dublin South West and Galway. Today’s hearing related to the issue in Dublin South West only.

AAA TD Paul Murphy had been clear in advance of the hearing that if Superintendent McPartlin was to appear in court and swear as to the accuracy of her refusal under oath that the alliance’s appeal would be automatically dismissed.

Nevertheless he thought it important to appeal the decision as the money that would have been collected would not have been used unlawfully.

paul m The letter sent by Superintendent McPartlin to Michael Murphy denying a permit for door-to-door collection Source: Paul Murphy/Facebook

McPartlin had subsequently confirmed in writing that her refusal of the collection permit was based on a suspicion that any collections by the AAA would be used to encourage unlawful acts.

In effect, the hearing hinged on whether or not McPartlin, who was sitting patiently in the audience, was to give evidence. In the end, she did.

In giving her evidence McPartlin stated that she had refused the permit for the AAA, made by Councillor Michael Murphy (who is among three elected representatives who are being charged in relation to the Jobstown protest last November), because she believed that the proceeds of those collections would lead to the direct or indirect encouragement of further public order offences.

Langwallner pressed McPartlin on whether or not her denial of a permit to Murphy was specific to him, or if it constituted a blanket refusal to the AAA in general.

“My decision was in relation to that singular application,” she replied. “Any further applications will be dealt with on their own merits”.

I formed my reasonable opinion because of the protests in my division over the previous six to nine months at which a number of public order offences were committed. This includes the protest of November 2014 (Jobstown) in which Councillor Murphy was involved.

Counsel for Superintendent McPartlin Peter Leonard contended to the judge that he was duty bound to uphold her decision as the Street and House to House Collections Act 1962 ties his hands in that respect because of case law precedent.

Langwallner acknowledged that this is the case, but further contended that “the act is an old one, and not permissive. If it is upheld in this case we would consider High Court proceedings as to its constitutionality”.

Judge Coughlan adjourned the proceedings until 20 November when he expects submissions from Murphy, John Donnellan, and the AAA as to the legal context of the case.

The AAA objected to this, albeit not strenuously, given that an election is imminent and they will need to be collecting donations.

After the hearing Ruth Coppinger told TheJournal.ie that the AAA will be “ready” with their High Court application should the judge throw out their appeal on 20 November.

Given the urgency of the coming election “cases where it’s a constitutional matter and in the public interest can be heard quicker”, she said.

This is the first time this legislation has been used against a political party. It’s indicative of where our political landscape is headed. The Superintendent mentioned public order offences, but no-one has been found guilty yet.

The hearing continues.

The three AAA candidates facing charges in relation to the Jobstown protest are also due to appear in court on 2 November after receiving summonses over the alleged false imprisonment of Tanaiste Joan Burton.

More than 20 others are also due in court over the incident and Murphy said that a group set up to arrange for their defence is close to securing legal representation for each of them.

Originally published 14.33

Read: “Evidence is mounting up” – TD says fundraising ban is another example of political policing

Read: Massive rise in donations to Anti-Austerity Alliance since Garda fundraising ban

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