A new podcast where hosts, ‘our’ Emily O’Callaghan and Irina Dzhambazova speak to original mavericks from the creative industries.
This episode – Number 2 – they meet actor and activist Frankie Gaffney.
In this short interview, Frankie manages to cover everything from Shakespeare through Joyce, via Marxism, Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, politics, discrimination, racism, misogyny, Irish Twitter and accidentally emailing filthy sex scenes from his book ‘Dublin Seven’ to his mother. A Freudian click if ever there was one.
Frankie has gone from getting into “scrapes” with the Gardai to DJing to ultimately releasing a novel which ended up at the Number 1 spot in Hodges Figgis and is now lecturing in Trinity and completing a PhD.
He is an outspoken activist both online and in real life. He truly believes that the love his Mother gave him for reading books from a young age has saved him from a life that could have gone differently. Frankie made for a captivating guest on this episode.
From top: Traveller boys in Dublin, 1980 by Brian Palm; The aftermath of the Carrickmines halting site fire, September 10, 2015; Frankie Gaffney
Frankie Gaffney writes:
Primitive, unruly, unkempt, nomadic, prone to thievery and feuding — they ride horses without saddles or stirrups — they’re clannish, ignorant, dirty, lawless and violent.
This is how the English described the Irish people for almost a millenium.
In this the centenary year of 1916, the Irish nation and State wallowed in self-pity over this treatment — and enthusiastically celebrated our violent rejection of it.
It is beyond irony that right to the present day we visit prejudice and racism on our own citizens from the Travelling community in precisely the same terms once used against us.
A barbarous people
“Their want of civilization, shown both in their dress and mental culture, makes them a barbarous people… Exceedingly averse to civil institutions, they lead the same life their fathers did in the woods and open pastures, neither willing to abandon their old habits or learn anything new… In riding, they neither use saddles, nor boots, nor spurs… Abandoning themselves to idleness, and immersed in sloth, their greatest delight is to be exempt from toil…”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
But this is not from one of the many sensational newspaper articles denigrating Travellers in the Ireland of today, this is from a 12th-century manuscript, Topographia Hiberniae, that was written by a courtier and scholar, Giraldus Cambrensis.
Like all such dehumanising narratives, it was composed with the distinct aim of dominating and dispossessing the people it described.
Indeed, Cambrensis followed the work shortly after with Expugnatio Hibernica — a celebratory account of King Henry II’s invasion of Ireland.
Echoes of these events resound.
It is more than symbolic that at the “Reclaim 1916” event (a commemoration “for the people, by the people”) a traditional Traveller wagon was shamefully prevented by Gardaí on the day from joining the parade as planned.
The current focus on 1916 might lead us into thinking rejection of English tyranny is a modern phenomenon, but this is not so. There has always been resistance to these injustices — militarily, but also diplomatically.
In 1317, the Irish Chieftains penned their “Remonstrance” to the Pope, bemoaning (among other things) the fact that Irish lives were not valued as much as English lives.
While such a state of affairs might belong in the 14th century, it sadly persists.
In June of 2015, six Irish students were killed when a balcony they were partying on collapsed in the university town of Berkeley California.
It is suspected that poor construction or maintenance were at least partly to blame.
Just a few months later that year, ten Irish Travellers perished in a fire.
Overcrowding, due to lack of space and inadequate provision of housing, has been cited as a cause of the death toll.
Five of those who died were children under the age of ten. There were glaring discrepancies in reactions to these two tragedies.
A New York Times piece about the Berkeley tragedy made reference to bad behaviour and drunkenness among Irish J-1 students.
It was slammed for insensitivity, and provoked a massive outcry from a variety of public figures. Officialdom was not silent either — the Irish Ambassador to the USA wrote to the paper and registered a complaint.
The article even prompted a vitriolic condemnation from former President Mary McAleese.
The language McAleese used in her open letter is telling:
“Today in Ireland we are hanging our heads in shock and sorrow at the needless deaths of six of our brightest and best young adults . . . the vast majority [of J-1 students] have been a credit to Ireland and only the very tiniest minority have not.”
Nobody was so enthusiastic in eulogising the victims of the Carrickmines fire.
McAleese and the other high-powered public figures who condemned coverage of the Berkeley tragedy (in the strongest possible terms) weren’t to be heard so robustly defending the Travelling community when they were grossly slandered in a variety of media following Carrickmines.
While it is likewise a small minority of Travellers who engage in bad behaviour, this defense was not offered by our establishment for them — nor, predictably but sadly, were the young children who died in the fire to be declared among “our best”.
This is not paranoid “victim-complex” thinking, or impressionistic “what-aboutery”. There is emerging empirical evidence to confirm this.
A pioneering study by Dr Fergal Quinn and Dr Elaine Vaughan is currently underway at University of Limerick, and looks set to demonstrate conclusively that there was stark media bias in this coverage.
Using linguistic techniques, they analysed articles in our national daily newspapers.
One striking aspect of the data they collected was unusually high incidences of the words “but” and “however” after the word “tragedy” in articles covering Carrickmines.
The study continues, but the fact such a high number of journalists felt the need to qualify the fact that a fire which killed ten human beings was “a tragedy” speaks volumes.
Predictably, worse was to be found in the comments sections.
The Journal.ie actually had to shut theirs down, but even that didn’t prevent people from venting their hate.
Journalist Gene Kerrigan has written powerfully about his shock, as comments such as “So sad” (posted before the thread was closed), were given a thumbs down by 268 people.
It is shocking that anyone could be so callous as to reject an expression of condolence in the wake of such a tragedy — but for hundreds to do so on all such comments is terrifying.
“Shame on you,” McAleese scolded the New York Times in outrage, but their article was mild and respectful in comparison to how the distraught Travelling coommunity were slandered and degraded in our press.
Incredibly, even worse treatment than this media denigration was to face the grieving Carrickmines families and survivors.
The Travelling community not only had to contend with vicious slurs, but in a disgusting and despicable development there were actual protests to prevent the survivors being temporarily accommodated nearby.
Let this sink in for a second: these are not hurtful words, or inappropriately timed references to misbehaviour.
This is people taking to the street and breaking the law to blockade a road, with the sole aim of preventing a devastated group of people from seeking shelter after an unconscionably horrific tragedy — the most lethal fire in this country since the Stardust disaster.
From top: RTÉ documentary The Guards; Frankie Gaffney’s book Dublin Seven
The uncompromising reticence to discuss the matter of Garda corruption is incredibly sinister.
Frankie Gaffney writes:
A recent RTÉ fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Guards, was advertised with an emotive montage of individual Gardaí speaking to camera, intimately relating various bad experiences they’d endured during duty: “I’ve been called names”, “I’ve been headbutted”, “I’ve been kicked”, and so on.
I can identify with their trauma. Living in the inner-city, I’ve been verbally abused, threatened, punched, kicked, had my home smashed up, and had money and personal belongings stolen from me.
But I didn’t feel safe calling the police. Why? Because all these actions were carried out by members of An Garda Síochána on operational duty. And it all happened before I was eighteen.
I was six years old the first time I was strip-searched.
Our national broadcaster chose to air this documentary at the height of a policing crisis. The programme provided a lengthy forum for Gardaí to boast unchallenged of the prowess their new initiatives. “New” intiatives which include a continuation and escalation of their futile war on drugs.
As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, it is not actually a war on drugs, or on people who take drugs, it is instead a war only against poor people who take drugs.
If ever a policy was designed to inflict misery on the weak and vulnerable it is this idiotic and evil folly.
It would have more useful, if instead of this programme, sympathetic to our newly discredited police force to the point of sycophancy, we had a documentary about the assaults Gardaí perpetrate on working-class young people and vulnerable addicts.
Or perhaps an investigation into some of the suspicious deaths of those under arrest. Deaths like that of 20-year-old Terence Wheelock, a young man with no history of self-harm who police assert hung himself in custody.
Or Brian Rossiterwho was only 14 years of age when he died from brain injuries in a police cell. His parents were told by Gardaí that disciplinary proceedings arising from incident were “none of their business”.
As Fr Peter McVerry put it, speaking of how young people in the inner-city relate to the police, “neither group has any respect for each other, but it is up to the Gardaí to show some respect for the people they have power over”.
It is the Gardaí, remember, who, acting freely as adults, swear an oath, don a uniform, and are paid money to uphold the law. In my experience, this means nothing to them.
RTÉ’s The Guards continues a long tradition throughout Ireland’s media of unquestioningly accepting any narrative offered by Gardaí, and relating stories from only their perspective.
Our media is beholden to An Garda Síochana, not least because members of the force continue to feed journalists stories at their individual discretion, without anything approaching due process. The most obvious exemplar of this is the country’s highest profile (and highest-paid) crime correspondent, Paul Williams.
In perhaps the most egregious example of the power Williams wields, he went on the Late Late Show one week before the election, and explicitly warned viewers not to vote for Sinn Féin – because a vote for them would endanger lives.
He contended his antipathy for this political party was due to their intention, if elected, to abolish the Special Criminal Court. This is a proposal backed by both the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International.
The Special Criminal Court was established in 1972, purely to deal with the escalation of IRA violence at the time. The court was always intended as a temporary measure, to be abolished when the Troubles ended. There is no jury.
According to Williams it’s only the gangsters and drug-dealers “smirking on Francis St” (did he see this?) that want this extraordinarily draconian “Star-Chamber” style court abolished. Yet ironically, the court has used its full set of powers to prosecute anti-drug activists in the past (with convicted heroin dealers appearing as witnesses for the State).
Williams, who also receives 24-hour protection from the police (paid for by the taxpayer), has little or nothing to say on the subject of Garda corruption other than to deny its existence. Throughout his career, he has backed up An Garda Síochána to the hilt.
The fanciful depiction of the Gardaí as the perpetual good-guys continues into fiction. Also from RTÉ, the phenomenally succesful Love/Hate fed audiences hungry for an insight into Dublin’s underworld.
I admit to a love/hate relationship with this drama.
The writing, the directing, the acting, the storytelling as a whole – at times all were fantastic. The show displayed serious Irish talent, and made incredibly compelling viewing. It deserved its success. Like most Dubs, I was excited all week for the next episode. But the “Guards = good”, “gangsters = bad” narrative is just not real life. Not even close.
The recent epidemic of corruption in an Garda Siochana was just the tip of the iceberg. Prior cases in Donegal and ongoing revelations from Leitrim demonstrate this clearly.
Yet any concessions from the establishment that there may be the remotest hint of corruption within the force have to be bitterly fought for. The reticence to even discuss the subject, the bitter resentment and persecution displayed towards those who raise it, and the silence on the potential for deeper problems, is incredibly sinister.
For example, anyone with the remotest concern for policing standards should have been screaming from the rooftops the moment the now faithfully departed Commissioner Callinan denied (prior to any inquiry) that there was corruption in an Garda Siochana.
All organisations the size of An Garda Siochana (approaching 13,000 members) will, as a matter of course, have some corruption. Callinan was claiming nothing short of omnipotence. This disgraceful – despicable – assertion from that blustering buffoon should have seen him sacked on the spot. Yet it went largely under the radar.
This thundering disgrace masquerading as a public servant went on to refer to the courageous whistleblowers, who stood up to bullying and smear tactics in pursuit of the truth, as “disgusting”. The whole squalid episode was shameful, exposing for all to see the rotten core of this state.
Yet now, after some cosmetic changes, some optics, a few soundbites and some window dressing, the situation has been remedied in the goverment’s eyes. You may proceed.
Last month Jim McGowan was promoted to the position of chief superintendent, an appointment which came – coincidentally – just two weeks before responsibility for promotions was to be handed over to an independent authority.
Jim McGowan also happens to have been the officer in charge of a a Garda unit specifically established to prosecute (or persecute?) political activists.
The same unit that designated 20 Gardaí in Tallaght to evidence gathering duty over a single protest in Jobstown – a protest at which nobody was even injured.
The same unit that sent 10 Gardaí in three cars to bang on a family’s front-door at 7am, to arrest a 16-year-old water protestor before he went to school. This, apparently, is what makes you rise in the ranks of An Garda Síochána.
Jim McGowan also happens to be Noirin O’Sullivan’s husband.
The commissioner’s attention certainly doesn’t seem to be focused on ending nepotism, or the unhealthy influence of party political interests on policing. Or, for that matter, on tackling corruption.
Nope, business as usual.
Nobody seems to be asking what part such frivolous and petty diversions of resources (or indeed potential high-level corruption) might play in allowing the gangs to operate as smoothly and effectively as they do.
The financial crisis that was used as an excuse for a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich (and gargantuan cuts in health spending) was, in this country, brought about by recklessness, poor regulation and criminality in the banking and financial sectors.
To prevent this happening again, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) was established. It was recommended that a dedicated team of forensic accountants be set up to target “white-collar crime”.
One accountant was assigned to this task. I say “was”, because this accountant has subsequently been transferred to other duties. For the past six months no accountants have been employed in this task.
While the media have been focused on gossip and speculation about the personalities involved in a petty “gangland” feud, in Ireland today a white-collar is carte blanche to commit crime. The type of crime that crippled this economy, consigned thousands to emigration, and has led this country to a situation where 10 people every week commit suicide.
And Paul Williams proclaims it is a vote for a party that wants to end this status quo that would endanger lives?
I see muscle bound men driving SUV’s with tinted windows, wearing balaclavas, carrying automatic weapons. These are the Gardaí.
If the children of the north inner-city Dublin are scared, what are they seeing that is scaring them?
“We need to demilitarise our police departments so they don’t look and act like invading armies,” said US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
Creator of The Wire, David Simon, said Baltimore police treated people the same way “an Israeli patrol would treat Gaza, or the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day . . . they’re an army of occupation”.
Any of these comments could be applied to inner-city Dublin today.
Unlike our newspapers, unlike our documentaries, unlike our dramas, Simon’s magesterial American TV series The Wire did show the back-story behind their characters. It showed the reasons people fall into cycles of crime and addiction, what it is that causes poor and vulnerable people to to enter an inescapable spiral of criminality – a cycle that damages themselves as much as anyone else.
It showed how social conditions, inequality and deprivation, compel people to criminality. It also showed that corruption and profiteering from drugs and “gangland” extends right the way throughout our society, throughout our institutions, throughout the police force.
All the way to the top of the political ladder. Our writers, our journalists, our newspapers, our broadcasters, need to take note – and start telling the full story too. Anything less is a lie.