Garda Commissioner Noiriin O’Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald; Dr Julien mercille
The O’Higgins report and the prosecution of water charges protesters illustrate the double standards in policing in Ireland.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
Last week, the O’Higgins report was released. It marked the culmination of an investigation into garda practices emerging out of allegations made by whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
The report details instances of incompetence and failings by gardai in handling a number of cases under their remit. Of course, those who ultimately paid the price were the victims of the crimes and operations described in the report.
The report is important because it brings a modicum of accountability to the police. Yet, as a number of observers have noted, while the report pointed to a number of failings, in essence, the leadership of our police forces walk away absolved, unfortunately.
As the Sunday Business Post summarised it, the O’Higgins report “establishes what we already knew — several garda investigations in the Cavan/Monaghan division were mishandled”.
Yet, no findings of corruption were made. “The former garda commissioner Martin Callinan and former justice minister Alan Shatter walk away absolved. Senior gardai emerge broadly unscathed”.
Fintan O’Toole also noted that we are yet again paying the price for the lack of accountability in our country as the O’Higgins report concludes that disciplinary proceedings that might arise out of its findings “would not be helpful”.
Reports of police corruption surface every now and then. On one hand, they are important because they highlight malpractice or incompetence within the police.
However, one thing should be underlined. It is that whatever “failings” and “corruption” one can find by individual guards, their superiors, or politicians overseeing them, there is a more fundamental issue. It is the fact that in many respects, the police forces are used by the State to control and repress dissent.
The behavior of those who challenge power is invariably closely scrutinised. But a blind eye is often turned to crimes committed by those in power, such as their involvement in war crimes by allowing US military aircraft to go through Shannon airport, or “failings” such as cutting funding to women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, and a range of vital support services on which we depend. There’s also little accountability for those who have completely mishandled the chaos in the health care system, which leads to deaths.
A few examples of the ongoing cases related to the prosecution of water charges protesters illustrate the double standards in policing.
Sean Doyle and Eamon McGrath are two elderly men who took part in a water protest in Kilcoole last Monday.
The two men, who are in their 70s, went to court, both on crutches, and were put in custody until they appear before Cloverhill District Court on 24 May.
We thus have a situation where two men with health issues are detained by the “Justice” bureaucracy for protesting austerity measures.
A few politicians have issued a statement condemning the imprisonment of the two men. They are Clare Daly TD, Cieran Perry (Deputy Lord Mayor), Mick Wallace TD, Eoin O’Broin TD, David Cullinane TD, Gino Kenny TD, Jonathan O’Brien TD, Thomas Pringle TD, Joan Collins TD, Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Catherine Connolly TD.
Their statement reads: “We condemn the criminalisation of protesters and the imprisonment of two elderly people who were the victims in this incident”.
Moreover, only a few days ago, a 16-year-old boy became the first Jobstown protester to be jailed, for 6 months. He was 15 at the time of the Jobstown protest.
There have been other arrests of water charges protesters, including the case of Joan Collins TD and a group of nine others. Joan Collins’ case was recently dismissed; the judge rejected the State’s charges and criticised gardaí’s handling of the protest.
But the charges against the remaining defendants continue.
This comes on top of the prosecution of Paul Murphy TD and 17 other protesters in relation to the events at Jobstown when Joan Burton remained stuck in her care for two hours in November 2014. Their trial is set for May 2017 and will then take place over four weeks.
This means that the whole process will have lasted at least two and a half years.
Think about all the money, energy and human resources spent on that. Yet, our politicians constantly call for “efficiency” and “belt tightening” while in fact the government is big waster of resources. Prosecuting water protestors is political and there is never any shortage of money to repress dissent.
In short, inquiring about garda corruption and failings is one important task, but we must also understand the role of police forces in protecting this country’s power structure.
Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille