If you want sugar coating, go to your local shop and buy yourself a bag of sweets, because there wasn’t a lot of it in evidence in the first episode of five-part documentary series The Guards: Inside the K.
The ‘K’ refers to K District, which takes in the sprawling Dublin suburbs of Blanchardstown, Finglas and Cabra, combined population 175,000. In the last 10 years, violence, virtually all of it related to feuding criminal gangs, but sometimes harming or killing innocent people caught in the crossfire, has escalated.
In the opening moments, uniformed gardaí and detectives, who we’d get to know by name as well as face as the programme went on, described what it’s like to work in the K. They were mercilessly honest about the harsh reality.
“The K District is absolutely mental.”
“The first day I went out, I thought I’d been dropped in Beirut.”
“When you finish, you should get a medal; ‘I survived the K’.”
I imagine there were people all over Blanchardstown, Finglas and Cabra — good, honest, decent people who live good, honest, decent lives — who were incensed by this, and well they might.
I know it still p****s me off when I hear someone badmouthing Crumlin, where I lived for 10 years, when they’ve never set foot near the place and know nothing about it beyond the outbursts of gang violence they read about in the paper or hear about on the TV and radio news.
Good, honest, decent people rarely get a look in from the media if they happen to live in an area blighted by gangland crime. Maybe we’ll meet some of them in later episodes, but at least their existence was acknowledged here.
“Even the worst estates have ordinary, decent people on them,” said Chef Supt Finbarr Murphy. “There’s no shortage of decent people out there. But day in day out, we’re not dealing with the good people, we’re dealing with the bad people.”
“Bad” is an understatement, and as for people, the fat thug with the scut cut who repeatedly called a garda (from behind the safety of his front garden gate, of course) “a fag” and threatened to “ride” him “like a b***h” stretches the definition of a human being.
The observational documentary following police on the job is hardly an underpopulated genre on television. But even by the standards of such things, this opening episode was an uncommonly frank and graphic dispatch from the frontline of policing a desperate situation.
As television, it’s a first-class production and totally compelling. But you walk away feeling nothing but despair.
As they answered call-outs, conducted searches and arrived at the scene of murders or attempted murders, the level of hostility directed towards officers on the K beat, even from people they were trying to help (often, it has to be said, the least deserving of help), was astonishing.
Even the officers themselves conceded that, among the gangland operators in these unfortunate communities, the last, lingering vestiges of fear of and respect for the gardai has vanished.
The cameras were present when officers burst into the home of Jason ‘Jay’ O’Connor, a thug who at the time had 64 previous convictions. Emerging shirtless, O’Connor sprayed abuse and threats around. He’s currently serving three years for assault and threats to kill gardaí.
Several months after the shooting of Lee Boylan, who only survived being shot 10 times by the swift actions of gardaí at the scene, we watched as they came to the aid of his father Noel, who’d escaped an assassination attempt at a supermarket with one bullet in the back.
Once again, they faced a torrent of abuse, not just from Boylan Sr, but from the howling mob gathered outside.
That old line, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it” has never been more apt than here. Dirty, but also dangerous, under-resourced and thankless. Be glad it’s not you.
The Guards: Inside the K (VirginMedia One) - 4 stars