Policing Must Return To First Principles

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From top: Anti-Lockdown protest on Grafton Street, Dublin 2 last Saturday week; Debenhams Workers on a picket outside the Debenhams shop on Henry Street were moved on by An Garda Siochana last May

“The Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms or numbers, but by their moral authority as servants of the people”

Michael Joseph Staines, First Garda Commissioner

Peter Keating writes:

The above statement is, in my opinion, a good founding principle for any Police Service in a free democracy. What is meant by “moral authority”? Wikipedia defines it as “authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws.”

Under its current leadership, An Garda Síochána has become increasingly politicised by this government and its predecessor. This undermines the moral authority which Michael Staines rightly recognised as being so vital to its success as a Police Service.

The Gardaí should indeed be servants of the people, not private political and ideological enforcers. Unfortunately, we are seeing policing in Ireland increasingly take its cue from the double standards of its political masters.

Last April, Gardaí broke up a demonstration by ordinary citizens protesting the loss of their jobs at Debenhams. Ironically, in light of recent events, the Debenhams protests were endorsed by prominent figures from the Irish Left.

Last June, a five thousand-strong Black Lives Matters protest marched through Dublin with hardly a Garda in sight. This demonstration, supposedly in the middle of a deadly pandemic, drew no condemnation from the political establishment – quite the contrary.

Last December, there was a virtual media blackout and no arrests made after violence in Blanchardstown. This is in stark contrast to the political, media, and Garda reaction to the anti-lockdown demonstration in Dublin a week ago last Saturday.

Protestors were met by a phalanx of Gardaí (both mounted and on foot) who were suited and booted with dogs and batons at the ready long before the lobbing of a firework by an individual who may have had nothing to do with the protest.

There have also been double standards applied to funerals under government restrictions and, of course responses to other incidents such as, Golfgate, Alan Kelly maskless on the Luas, the RTÉ party and the party at the Garda station, has been inconsistent.

The behaviour of Gardaí at evictions has also been called into question. The role of An Garda Síochána at an eviction is quite clear: They are there to prevent a breach of the peace and to ensure the safety of all concerned. If they witness a breach of the peace or any other offence, then they are duty-bound to act.

It really is that simple. With respect to the assertion in the Irish Independent article referenced above that “An Garda Síochána is a learning organisation” and the request for an urgent external report so that the organisation can “learn lessons” – isn’t that exactly the purpose of the expensive two-year training course which Garda recruits undergo?

There have been other incidences of the organisation and its members acting inappropriately and outside of its remit in the furtherance of various agendas unrelated to policing, such as the organisation’s promotion of vaccines on social media.

Then there’s the TikTok dancing, supposedly to “Lift the Nation’s Spirits”. The participation of An Garda Síochána in an inane (but undoubtedly very expensive) dance production at a time when livelihoods and lives are being lost as a result of the government restrictions which they are enforcing was completely inappropriate. At best, it was in bad taste. It was unnerving and slightly sinister, like a bully wanting to be your friend. Notably, the Defence Forces and The Coast Guard wisely chose not to follow their example.

There is no doubt that the relationship between a politicised Garda Síochána and the ordinary citizen is changing – particularly under the current government restrictions – and not for the better. Policing by consent is being replaced by coercion.

The image of a gaggle of dancing Gardaí does not juxtapose well with the image of a cohort of Gardaí detailed to arrest and remove a woman from her place of business for exercising her Constitutional right to earn a living and provide for her family. Ordinary people are being criminalised for just trying to live their lives.

In a force (and An Garda Síochána can certainly be described once more as a force) comprising in excess of fourteen and a half thousand members, it is not unreasonable to believe that there are many who have their doubts about the direction policing has taken both generally, and specifically in relation to current government restrictions. Many have families themselves who are also suffering They can see the damage wrought by these restrictions to the people they are supposed to serve.

So where are the Garda whistleblowers now? All members have made a “Solemn Declaration” (albeit watered down from the original Sworn Oath) to uphold the Constitution – which is superior to all positive law – and hence to defend the rights and freedoms of all citizens which Bunreacht na hÉireann asserts and guarantees.

Is there really nobody prepared to raise their head above the parapet? Remember, five thousand members found it within themselves to take (forbidden) action over their pay in 1998 via the “Blue Flu”.

Meanwhile on Merseyside in the UK, there was a scene somewhat reminiscent of a relatively recent Garda photoshoot, but far less subtle: four officers from Merseyside Police – one wielding a large stick – posing in front of an advertising van bedecked with a rainbow-coloured billboard bearing the large slogan “BEING OFFENSIVE IS AN OFFENCE”.

The ill-advised stunt proved to be a step too far, however, and the resultant public backlash forced Merseyside Police into an embarrassing apology, a Superintendent being required to clarify that “being offensive” is, of course, not in itself an offence.

Although having occurred in another jurisdiction, such “woke” (and legally incorrect) virtue-signalling should also ring alarm bells here, particularly in the context of the impending enactment of identity politics-based “Hate Crime” legislation.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Identity Politics” as “Politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group”.

Identity politics is by definition inherently divisive and inequitable. Legislation (and obviously enforcement) based upon it is not a good fit for a Republic that purports to assert the equality of all citizens before the law.

The drive to enact such legislation, supposedly in the midst of a deadly pandemic, is pure opportunism, an effort to make ideological hay while the political skies are clear. In truth, one would now be hard-pressed to separate the government parties ideologically, and the oxymoronic “Opposition” lie even further to the Left.

The covid-19 narrative continues to provide fruitful opportunities for the government parties to achieve long-held political and ideological aims.

Many of those who have championed this legislation, and who seek desperately to discover a fascist bogeyman to help justify it, are the same people who have spent the last 11 months steadily eroding the fundamental rights and freedoms of Irish citizens. The irony appears lost on them, but the fact remains that these are the people dictating the policing agenda.

An Garda Síochána must return to the first principles advocated by Michael Staines. They must repudiate the service of political agendas and return to their role as servants of the people. Politicisation and poor leadership is undermining the moral authority of An Garda Síochána.

Care should be taken to ensure that it is not lost, or the loss of the support, trust, and consent of the people will surely follow.

Peter Keating is a ‘part-time writer and artist’ based in Munster.

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39 thoughts on “Policing Must Return To First Principles

  1. Sara

    The gardai exist to secure property and to keep the poor in their place. That’s what all police forces exist for. They’re not a force for good, they never have been.

    1. Andrew

      are you not back in school yet Sara? You’ll give Daisy a run for her money with comments like that!

      1. Daisy Chainsaw

        Nice to see you’ve noticed that I have my feet up on the wet, squishy part of your brain… where it seems I live!

    2. Dr.Fart

      then why didnt they open up on those clowns on Grafton st? They look like working class guys. Goading and pushing the police. Ripe for a battering. I usually wouldn’t be up for that, but in that instance I was praying they would.

      1. Kdoc

        The Gardaí were a model of restraint. They were subjected to incessant verbal abuse. Bottles (including some filled with urine) and snooker balls were thrown at them. Other fireworks were thrown even before the rocket firework was shot at them. Some well known faces from the security division of the far-right were confronting the Gardaí, including a former boxing champion. These were not some local skangers who just hopped on the bandwagon for the day out; they have been part of the security detail at protests on O’Connell bridge, the Custom House, the Garden of Remembrance and the Dáil.

    3. Scundered

      Sara, I guess you won’t be calling them should you fall victim to a serious crime so… If you really held that bonkers opinion.

      1. Bruncvik

        In all fairness, I have plenty of neigbours who wouldn’t be calling the guards. Instead, they’d call a few friends and go get their own justice. The usual reasoning is that the guards wouldn’t do anything anyway.

    1. Anti Bots

      To protect ourselves from your henchmen. Can’t help yourself. Any article on the Guards you have to post negative comments. Sure, as you are up north you don’t have to worry about the Guards.

  2. Mr. T

    ACAB – unless theyre arresting people we dont like (like anti-lockdown protestors), in which case theyre a service to their country

  3. TypeONegative

    This article is really reaching. The comparison between the Garda response to the BLM marches and the Grafton street protest is undermined by the fairly obvious evidence of aggressive scobes with their fight heads on that made up the latter group.

    The Gardai are looking at the facebook groups organising this carry on. The lads in trackies didn’t turn up because they found out that Gards were already there in heavy skullcracking kit, rather the Gardai turned up because they knew the lads in trackies would be there.

    Besides, this entire argument is a false equivalency anyway according to the multitude of video and picture evidence – Gards in everyday street uniforms, not suited and booted in riot gear as claimed by the author.

    1. Geraldo

      The blanchardstown demos were violent but the gardai stayed away.

      The author is correct, the garda organisation is a political group that serves the government not the people

      A very corrupt organisation

      1. Nilbert

        That’s just a racist lie. Those were not violent demos. I passed by the Garda station every day during those demos. my wife’s elderly parents live very near to the station.
        There was clearly a lot of heightened emotions, but the vast majority of people behaved in a dignified and respectful manner. Even the Gardaí managed to pull themselves together eventually, and deal with the issue with a degree of professionalism.

    2. A d

      No, you’re wrong there. It is impossible to say how peaceful people are until they are challenged. The point being made there was that BLM was unchallenged, quite possibly because of what happened in UK and USA. Its not quite as straightforward as you are making out.(..these are good people, these are bad people). The gardai deserve some very harsh criticism at the best of times in general – that leash needs to be kept very tight – and recently in particular. As the author suggests a fundamental shift is required, not that gardai should be done away with , or are irredeemably useless.

  4. Mick

    “[the TikTok dance] was in bad taste. It was unnerving and slightly sinister…”
    What? Did you watch the same video as me? It may have been a bit embarrassing, but sinister???

    1. Clampers Outside

      I came to the comments first… having only read the opening quote. I wont be bothered reading the rest now.

      Thanks for saving me the bother :)

        1. Clampers Outside

          I am thinking for myself… I’m thinking if he calls a harmless dance ‘sinister’ he’s not worth reading any further.

          Do keep up

    2. A d

      It has to be placed in context. Someone dancing like a buffoon is daft, for sure. You might say cringy or derpy. But it is not a random or isolated thing – that dancing is going on in the face of immense suffering, which the gardai have had a part in, and that is the relavent context. If the gardai, and many people, are unaware of this, or choose to ignore it (for a laugh), then the spectacle is indeed macabre. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even have any satirical comedic value.

    1. Chris

      This site used to pedal as a slightly left of centre satirical blog, with an active but anonymous comments space. A while ago, I’m not sure how long, this website decided it needed to be a ‘safe space’ and started heavily modding the comments. Swears are edited to childish words and challenging arguments just deleted ‘poof’. Now as a further step, it appears to allow open season for anyone to air unchallenged straw man views, not as comments but only as articles, with swearing and all manner of misinformation permitted. Finally the most vociferous and challenging replies, or any that are just a bit rude are swiftly deleted. I am also confused.

  5. Gavin

    I think there are valid points in there and some bull plop, at its core the Garda have some serious issues, the scandal with the whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, are enough in themselves to question exactly what is going internally. The enthusiasm of the Garda commissioner describing the marches last week as both far-right and far-left and then having to roll back on it, speaks to the politicization of the organization that’s mentioned. Also the 2014 GSOC bugging scandal was pretty damning and still not cleared up and let’s not forget the driving penalty points getting removed for certain people.

  6. Scundered

    The best PR exercise for the Gardai would be to treat everybody equally… No more special treatment for some and not for others, the law is merely a farce otherwise. If you want respect then stand by your word at all times and lay down the law equally.

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      So all protesters get their heads bashed in? Good. I hope they’ll do it to the scabs and traitors on Lá le Phádraig.

      1. scundered

        If an action warrants it yes of course, any protest is risking all our livelihoods so club the lot of them for putting us all at risk, I don’t care what their stupid cause is.

  7. Ronan

    An anti-establishment march will never be treated the same as a pro-equality march, as the profile of protester will be largely different.

    That aside this is a somewhat transparent (based on the rant about identity politics) moan along the lines of “When the minority ‘agenda’ folk march you do nothing, but when my keep Ireland for the Irish quasi-republican freeman on the land march happens you batter us”

  8. K.Cavan

    The police force have always been both security against the acts of criminals & a political force, to control the general population. The Gardai will become more like the police forces in the rest of Europe, appreciated for their protection of citizens but basically figures of hate for their role in repressing political protest. A French cop stood in the path of a truck driven by a Muslim & emptied his gun into the cab, ending that murderous spree, all France hailed his bravery, then next day everyone went back to hating les flics. In the future, as our politicians attempt to enforce their ideology on an unwilling public, the majority of the population will end up detesting the police, as their role switches over to protecting a more repressive state from the people.

  9. Chris

    Part time writer, full time straw man. Broadsheet bait as usual. What exactly is the editorial slant of this website? It’s like a blog by S K Zahler, only not as subtle.

      1. Chris

        I’m writing it now, it’s a long winded article that takes a needle and threads it with intolerance, then sews together a dozen unrelated incidents, weaving a dazzling tapestry that when viewed from a distance comes into focus with a message we all love… ‘Ireland is for the Irish!’

  10. A d

    Quite a bit of dog-whistling there in the comments, which I suppose might produce a few extra clicks, but its getting very stale. The length of piece allows more words for picking, of course, but the BLM thing last year is curious. All the support , at the height of the pandemic and with disestablishment rhetoric, is very odd. I wonder if it were to occur again, now, would it avoid criticism.

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