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The Rioting Police

Anthony McIntyre • The Other View, Summer 2002

The Garda has not had an easy time as of late. Pilloried from all directions it may be displaying the old RUC syndrome of ‘nobody likes us, everybody hates us’. Even Sinn Fein’s new found admiration for the force, leading the party to claim it was the only legitimate policing body in Ireland, took a nose dive after Garda attempts to shape the outcome of the North Kerry election result. And such negative sentiment is only part of a widening discourse which asks the most serious questions of the Garda for decades. Probably not since the Kerry babies scandal has policing been the subject of such public disquiet if not ridicule.

With the McBrearty affair, corruption in Donegal, the handling of information prior to the Omagh bomb and serious public misgivings over police inflicted fatalities all combining to provide an unhealthy backdrop it was maybe a bit hopeful to expect that the response of disaffected police members would be peaceful. And when it came the government simply was not ready. No water cannon, no Gardai control procedures, no guards to guard the guards.

Because it was caught on camera the subsequent Garda riot in Dublin city centre captured the public imagination in a way that resonated of the late 1960s in the North when a RUC knee in a nationalist groin grabbed everybody by the curlies. Protestors taking part in a "reclaim the streets" parade as part of an anti-capitalist rally found themselves confronted by a mob of Gardai seemingly intent on disturbing the peace and disrupting public order. The Irish Human Rights Commission has called for an independent inquiry into the attack and the events that preceded it. The Commission president Mr Justice Donal Barrington, opined that the Garda should not inquire into the matter themselves 'because they would not be seen to be independent." An ombudsman, similar to that in the North would be more suited to such matters.

It hardly comes as a surprise then that the Garda should view matters differently. Seeing public policing as their own little fiefdom the force at the 24th annual conference of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) in Cork, through its general secretary, Mr P.J. Stone, launched a broadside against all who might share the view of Labour leader Ruairi Quinn that the business of the public should be conducted in public. For Stone the ‘good name’ of those who took part in the riot was being ruined by a minority of citizens supported by the media. Moreover, he dismissed the actions of the then Minister of Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, as inconceivable because the latter did not immediately accept the Garda Commissioner's report on the riots in Dublin. 'Stone protested:

What does that mean? What is the Minister saying? Is the Minister for Justice suggesting that he cannot accept the word of the Garda Commissioner on certain issues? If that is so then the Minister and the Government should remove the Commissioner immediately.

The words were deliberately chosen to morally blackmail the government into accepting the privileged position of the Garda, one which places them beyond accountability. But since when did the perspective of the rioters ever come to be shared by the Minister of Justice in any country? Stone all too easily forgets the ease with which former Ministers of Justice accepted the Garda version of the heavy gang - are we to go back to that? Seemingly so, because neither does Stone want an ombudsman on the grounds that the majority of complaints against the force comes from ‘criminals or subversive types‘.

Stone’s attempts to crush open discussion of the matter and baton public concern off the stage is a tired old trick performed in front of an increasingly sceptical audience. And for all his mumbo jumbo he has failed to eradicate from the public mind a suspicion that the real criminals intent on subverting human rights in this instance have been the Gardai. Are we to believe that Peter Sweetman, of Friends of the Irish Environment, is a dangerous subversive, because he provided details of two incidents of police brutality? And is 17 year old Oisin Breen, a student, a new ‘General’ in need of corrective batoning and a six stitch scar to his head as a reminder just in case he should again contemplate assuming a revolutionary posture by standing at the corner of Dame Street?

Sinn Fein’s Daithi Doolan commenting on the zero tolerance approach which led to the Garda riot, correctly said there is now ‘Zero rights, Zero equality, Zero on Garda accountability and in the end, that just amounts to Zero sense.’ He called for the Gardai involved in the Dame Street riot to be sacked. But why treat them differently from other members of society? If I were to walk up and down Dame Street with a baseball bat attacking the public I could expect the clink. In the interests of public safety lock them up.






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If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
- Thomas J. Watson, Jr

Index: Current Articles

25 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Compassionate Parole
Marian Price


Culture of Hate?
Billy Mitchell


An Agenda Less Hidden
Davy Carlin


The Rioting Police
Anthony McIntyre


Still Life of Sorts
Brian Mór


No Surrender!
Brian Mór


Not An Inch!
Brian Mór


The Adventures of Super Stake Knife
Brian Mór


22 August 2002


Listen Rather Than Punish
Anthony McIntyre


To Hell With the True Believers
Newton Emerson


Merger Mania
Ciarán Irvine


Interface Workers Snubbed
Billy Mitchell


A Vibrant Feile
Sean Smyth


RIRA & CIRA: No Support and Going Nowhere?
Liam O Ruairc




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