The High Court has committed five anti-water charge protesters to prison for breaching an order restraining them from coming within a 20-metre exclusion zone surrounding installation works.
Lawyers for GMC Sierra, the company which has a contract to install water meters around the country, had already secured injunctions preventing a number of individuals or anyone who had notice of the order from assaulting, intimidating or interfering with workers installing the meters.
The company secured the order on 5 November 2014 after its lawyers told the High Court that its workers had been harassed and threatened while installing meters in certain areas.
GMC subsequently moved contempt of court proceedings against seven protesters on grounds that they allegedly breached the 5 November order in the Phibsborough and Stoneybatter areas in December.
In his ruling delivered this afternoon, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said he was satisfied that the protest actions represented "harassment and intimidation" of GMC Sierra's workers.
The judge committed Dublin men Damien O'Neill, 46, of Greenwood Park, Coolock; and Paul Moore, of Mount Olive Grove in Kilbarrack, to prison for 56 days "taking into account this is the second finding of contempt" against them.
Bernie Hughes of McKelvey Avenue, Finglas; and Derek Byrne, 36, of Streamville Road, Donaghmede; were sent to prison for 28 days.
A fifth man, 64-year-old Michael Batty of Edenmore Avenue, Raheny, had a stay put on his committal to prison until Tuesday because he is currently out of the country for health reasons.
Following their committal to prison, the five respondents had legal costs awarded against them.
Mr Justice Gilligan said the protests were being carefully organised and carried out by persons "whom I have found to have been in contempt" and were "designed to provoke civil disobedience".
He distinguished their actions from the "many people in the country" who have carried out peaceful protests to the imposition of water charges.
Having watched the various videos submitted as evidence by GMC, he said, this was not a situation where a large number of protesters were involved in marching with "placards and the like" although there did appear to have been "a number of people from Detroit" at one stage.
A distinct small group of people who consistently moved in and around protest circles on occasion "manhandled" the workers, Mr Justice Gilligan said.
The same people appeared to be involved in the instances of 9 and 9 December last.
Accordingly and "to make the situation crystal clear," he said the people present on those days were harassing, obstructing and doing everything they could to prevent works being carried out.
Mr Justice Gilligan said he accepted the contention that it was both "unfair and cowardly" that the workers were subjected to harassment on a daily basis.
The clear intention of those people found to have been in contempt, he said, was to prevent the installation of water meters.
It was important to state, the judge said, that people in a democratic society had the right to protest peacefully and express their opinions.
Mr Justice Gilligan said a basic framework of the Constitution was to maintain a system of checks and balances and to regulate the relationship between organs of the State.
The Oireachtas made the law and the functions of the courts was to interpret the law and statutes.
It was "imperative" that the courts' decisions were "respected and abided by".
He said the power to send a person to prison must only be exercised as a last resort.
While coercive, it was to ensure orders of the court were complied with and the authority of the court must be vindicated.
"The court cannot stand idly by while those who defy its orders go free and those who seek its protection lose out," he said.
Contempt was a "serious affront to the authority of the court and its order," Mr Justice Gilligan said.
He said the nature of the protest represented harassment and intimidation of workers involved in lawful work.
The contempt in this case represented "serious misconduct". The breaches were "flagrant and deliberate".
Audible groans of disapproval form the public gallery were swiftly drowned out with loud and prolonged applause.
A number of people present chanted 'shame' repeatedly while others chanted "no way, we won't pay".
There were dozens of supporters for the respondents in court 21 of the Criminal Courts of Justice as well as several uniformed gardaí.
Following his order, Mr Justice Gilligan rose momentarily and returned to the court with only legal representatives and no members of the public present.
Mr O'Callaghan said GMC Sierra succeeded in its application against five of the respondents and as a result he was entitled to his costs.
Mr Justice Gilligan so ordered, adding that GMC Sierra was entitled to its costs "in respect of the five respondents who have been found guilty of contempt".
The judge put a stay on Mr Batty's committal to prison until Tuesday morning.
The court heard he is in Lanzarote, Spain as he needed to be in a dry and sunny climate due to chronic asthma.
Mr Justice Gilligan said it was not a situation where Mr Batty could come back in two or three months.
"I want to be told when he's coming back into the country, the time, the date," on Tuesday morning, he said.
Earlier, Mr Justice Gilligan said he was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that two protesters, Mark Egan of Tonlegee Drive, Raheny and Richie Larkin of Mount Olive Road, Kilbarrack, were in breach of the court's order and accordingly the application for relief against them was refused.
Having told Mr Egan and Mr Larkin they were "free to stand down" the pair thanked the court and left the dock to loud and prolonged applause.
He ordered costs against GMC Sierra in respect of Mr Egan and Mr Larkin due to the plaintiffs’ failed application against them.
Prior to their committal to prison, counsel for the five respondents, Patrick McGrath SC, said his clients were not willing to give an undertaking to the court not to breach the order again and no bond would be entered into by them.
"They are protestors, they believe they have the right to protest. They're aware of the court's order, they're aware of the potential consequences," Mr McGrath had said.
Mr Justice Gilligan said nobody could have any difficulty in a democratic society with them carrying out a form of protest.
But in this instance, he said, the court had made an order.
The judge said Mr O'Neill and Mr Moore had been found to be in breach of the order on two occasions.
Video evidence clearly showed the nature and extent of their involvement, he said.
Counsel said Mr O'Neill and Mr Moore apologised for offending the court but were but were not prepared to undertake to do something they would "not be in a position to honour because of their beliefs and views".