Friday 9 December 2016

The force's biggest duty is not investigating crimes - we need them to save us from ourselves

Published 03/11/2016 | 02:30

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Rules are made to be broken but would you do it just for the sake of it? If the Garda strike goes ahead on Friday, the Government's resilience will be tested, the unions' nerve will be tested and our natural decency will be tested.

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There have been lots of questions asked about contingency plans in recent days, but very few answers have been forthcoming from either An Garda Síochána or the Department of Justice.

In the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he didn't want to comment "on the details" but insisted Plan B does exist.

"There are contingency arrangements put in place by the Commissioner and senior Garda management, and that is a matter of day-to-day running, but it is difficult to have withdrawn over 12,500 personnel on any one day and expect the system to operate 100pc as one would wish," he said.

The truth is that Plan B is basically to hope that the public behave themselves.

Whatever contingencies can be put in place will focus on keeping airports open, monitoring notorious gangland criminals and responding to life and death situations.

There is no question of the Defence Forces undertaking the duties or work of the Garda Síochána.

They have no powers of arrest or civil authority. And beside, the last thing the Government wants is images going around the world of Army officers walking the streets.

At a time when we are rebuilding after economic turmoil and trying to lure big business on the back of Brexit, it doesn't exactly sell a message of stability.

So for everything outside of the 'major incidents' it will be a case of 'sort it out yourselves'.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said she can't discuss the contingency plans because criminal elements will seek to "exploit" them.

It all leads to fear among older people, those in isolated areas or families living in housing estates where anti-social behaviour is rampant.

Business people will have to measure up whether they have sufficient security in place too.

Already a security firm who carries out cash-in-transit delive ries has said it will go into lockdown for the day.

Listening to people talking over the past few days there is speculation about the possibility of looting, burglaries and bank robberies.

But while we should be worried about the seasoned criminals for whom Christmas is coming early, ordinary decent people have a role to play too.

How many people will think about using the bus lanes tomorrow? What percentage will consider having a few drinks after work and driving home? You probably drive a few kilometres over the speed limit on a normal day so a few extra with no gardaí around seems reasonable.

These are the real crimes that we have to worry about because without the fear of being caught, many people have no fear at all.

In her letter to the entire force, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan made the point that officers have "a long-established and proud tradition of placing our communities at the heart of everything we do".

Ms Fitzgerald has made the point that if the solemn oath taken by gardaí when they pass out means anything then they won't strike.

Officers promise they "will render good and true service and obedience to Saorstát Éireann and its constitution and government as by law established, without favour or affection, fear, malice or ill-will, and that I will see and cause the peace to be kept and preserved, and that I will prevent to the best of my power all offences against the same".

It's the word 'prevent' that stands out in that passage because the biggest role of gardaí in society is not always to investigate crime. Their presence alone saves us from ourselves.

Knowing that we might get penalty points for speeding or end up in court for drink-driving stops us from engaging in such practice.

Of course, most of us are sensible enough to do the right thing anyway but there are those who will use tomorrow's strike as an excuse to break the law.

After all, if gardaí are willing to break the law and their solemn oath, why shouldn't the rest of us. Sense must prevail.

Irish Independent

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