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Disturbing reflections on Gardai

category national | summit mobilisations | news report author Thursday May 13, 2004 11:26author by IT reader Report this post to the editors

Positive IT opinion piece

Ok - I know I' m probably breaking Indymedia policy by posting a full article but not everybody reads it or has pay per view.

Disturbing reflections on gardai
Mary Raftery

It was when they said they had cleared space in the city morgue that one really began to wonder about the sanity surrounding the authorities' response to the May Day events.

It is one thing to be prepared, but quite another to become so consumed with paranoia as to lose all touch with reality. During the May Day weekend, Ireland moved firmly through the looking glass.

On one level, it was absurd - the Army's chemical, biological and nuclear unit (whatever that is) on alert, the Navy patrolling Dublin Bay, the Air Force keeping our skies safe, gardaí questioning people about buying onions (aka dangerous projectiles) in Moore Street.

There are however aspects of the events leading up to the EU summit at Farmleigh which have more disturbing ramifications.

Bertie Ahern's identification before the event of protesters as "mindless hooligans" set the scene. Dublin appeared to perceive itself as the latest stage in a linear progression from Seattle to Genoa in terms of anti-globalisation protest.

Concrete evidence for this was scant. Anticipation of an invasion of thousands of diehard anarchists intent on causing mayhem on Dublin streets appeared to be based on little more than an inaccurate reading of the undoubtedly violent protests of Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa.

The truth of what actually happened on the streets of those cities took time to emerge, and never received the same coverage as the riots themselves. In Seattle, hundreds of thousands protested in 1999 at the World Trade Organisation summit. A city council investigation subsequently identified serious police inadequacy and brutality as being a major cause of the violence. The mayor and the police chief were singled out for blame, with the latter forced to take early retirement.

The Seattle City Council concluded that "gratuitous assaults" by police had "compromised the civil rights of citizens and often provoked further disturbance".

In Genoa, it was the G8 summit in 2001 which drew the protesters. The Italian media was full of alarmist accounts anticipating mayhem. The police listed the tactics to be used against them by demonstrators in the most lurid terms. Anarchists were supposed to be preparing bags of HIV-infected blood to hurl at them and at anyone else who got in their way.

With hundreds injured as a result of police brutality, the Italian police finally admitted that they had used excessive force and acted illegally. While there had certainly been a hard-line group of protesters intent on causing damage, the police had inexplicably ignored them and concentrated their aggression on the main body of peaceful protesters.

Hundreds were arrested, many not allowed bail or even a phone call. There is overwhelming evidence that many were beaten and degraded while in custody. Most were subsequently either released without charge, or faced only minor charges. A plethora of inquiries ensued; scores of police were investigated with the three most senior policemen in Genoa disciplined and transferred.

The protester who died was Carlo Giuliani (23), shot by a panicked 20-year-old officer, who like his colleagues was armed.

The Swedish police in Gothenburg, the scene of anti-globalisation protests in 2001, were also armed. They shot and seriously injured several unarmed demonstrators. Yet again, independent investigations blamed police overreaction and brutality for increasing the level of violence.

The lessons are clear. Heavy-handed armed response to protesters invariably leads to escalating violence. Yet when Dublin's turn came, the gardaí announced through their representative organisation they wanted guns to deal with the anticipated May Day protest.

This not only represents a dire failure to learn anything from the past, but also a denial of the experience of hundreds of gardaí who have been in and led UN civilian police operations in trouble spots around the world.

I had the good fortune to observe them in action in Namibia at the time of that country's difficult path to independence. Although one of the few unarmed police contingents in the international force, the Irish made and won the case for the UN police not to carry guns.

Through dialogue and compromise rather than physical force, the gardaí set a superb example of professional policing in Namibia, and later in Cambodia. They single-handedly convinced both the international community and fellow officers from around the world of the effectiveness and the virtues of an unarmed police force.

Given this remarkable international influence, it is appalling to hear gardaí now turn their backs on our highly successful tradition of an unarmed police force, and demand guns to fight what were really only the phantoms of their own paranoia.

No doubt these same gardaí would welcome the truly frightening proposal from the German and Italian governments to create a specialised, heavily-armed EU riot squad to be parachuted into any city with a summit and/or protest. If there was ever an area in which we should not follow the European model, this should certainly be it.

Related Link: http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/opinion/2004/0513/pf1525507219OPRAFTERY.html
author by Unarmed civilianpublication date Thu May 13, 2004 15:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I would love to know what proportion of the Gardai supported the proposal to arm. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of things that were done in the past (by all sides), my understanding was that by being unarmed this helped to prevent a more serious escalation of what went on in this country over the past 35 years, or indeed the past eighty years.
I understood that most of them were opposed to arming for precisely that reason.

author by jeffpublication date Thu May 13, 2004 16:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The GRA, as represented by that wacko, PJ Stone, and a larger, more moderate one.

PJ Stone has a lot of people thinking that the views of the GRA are the views of most Gardai. This is because he is constantly making such right wing lunatic statements that it is his union that makes the papers.

Correct me if I am wrong.

author by Davidpublication date Thu May 13, 2004 16:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

if you're legally not allowed to go on strike and you're job is to enforce the law.
their union must not be particularly good at representing them if they can't secure even the most fundamental of workers rights

author by sub commandant paranoiapublication date Thu May 13, 2004 16:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

for everyone.
On the island we have in excess of 280,000 licensed arms, and lots of illegal arms, and we are always arguing about arms.
Solution :-
Become like our Canadian and US cousins.

= Support the universal right to bear arms.

(the lurch from libertarian to loony right is so easy to make, I reckon i'll get paid more in royalties if I'm a loony rightwinger from now on, and no-ones seems to notice or care here)

author by pcpublication date Thu May 13, 2004 17:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

question is why wasn't written before mayday

well before mayday and out on the it front page?

author by Fionapublication date Thu May 13, 2004 18:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the reality in this country is that many gardai are already armed. Anybody who has protested at Shannon will have seen armed gardai on rooftops, their guns cunningly concealed under their big red garda bibs, and others equally armed directing operations from the ground. Given that the army is already 'protecting' Shannon one wonders why.

author by gramsci fanpublication date Fri May 14, 2004 13:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There are two Garda unions. The GRA (Garda Representative Association) represents the basic-grade gardai; the AGSI (Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors) does what it says on the tin. Don't know if there is a representative body for higher grades.

author by Alpublication date Tue Sep 07, 2004 20:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the reality in this country is that many gardai are already armed - Less than 10%, not really what you could call an armed force.

The reason we cant strike should be obvious.

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