Monday 16 September 2019

The good, the bad and the irresponsible

A garda gave his life to save one vulnerable woman, but the system utterly failed another

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Siobhan Phillips was a vulnerable woman. In October 2015, Garda Tony Golden was murdered trying to protect her. Dara Quigley was a vulnerable woman. A month ago, when she was at a very low ebb, utterly defenceless, a video of her plight somehow emerged from Garda custody. It was displayed for the world to see.

Within a short time she killed herself.

These are the extremes we've experienced from the Garda force.

One person received the ultimate support from Gda Golden; another came to the notice of gardai, in extreme circumstances, and someone treated her as something less than fully human.

The crisis in the force has for some time been regarded as one of leadership - and certainly that is part of it.

If we had less cowardice and opportunism in politics there might long ago have been a clear-out of the top ranks. Many would be pensioned off, perhaps finding roles as consultants on those hilarious TV3 crime documockeries.

But it's more than a Garda leadership problem.

Any substantial organisation will include civic-minded people. And authoritarians, bigots, chancers and eejits.

An Garda Siochana is no different.

We're told by politicians that 99pc of gardai are heroes. Really? One million fake breath tests?

Those few bad apples have sure been mighty busy.

Then there are some minor questions about homicide figures, and some major questions about domestic abuse figures.

The penalty points scandal; Traveller children entered into the Pulse system; garda gossip making its way to the former commissioner and on to a minister, to be used for political purposes; Clare Daly TD handcuffed by the side of the road, the media falsely informed that she had been drink-driving, shortly after she raised questions about the running of the force.

The scandal of the failure to bring anyone to account for this, after over four years of alleged inquiries.

The arrogance with which more than a few members of the force treat members of the public.

The routine disdain, and macho provocation, with which more than a few members of the force treat young males in working-class areas - something that doesn't happen in areas where the progeny of judges, commissioners and TDs might be found.

Taping private phone calls, year after year - and no one knew.

The politicisation of the force.

The list could continue until we run out of ink.

Let's not even mention the historical horrors, from the Heavy Gang to the wild west Garda cowboys of Donegal.

And that's before we come to the Templemore scandal, where the police college, which sets standards for young recruits, has for years indulged in financial shenanigans that were so blatant they were quite funny (a "laundry" service taking a tenner a year from recruits, with the proceeds subsidising the Garda Boat Club and meals for senior officers).

And the casual acceptance of amateur standards in case work. And dreadful circumstances where that resulted in people who should have been in jail being left free to kill.

All of this happening with no serious effort - at high rank or political level - to achieve effective reform.

Simultaneously, there's persistent evidence of professional coppers applying the highest standards to their work.

As we know, civic-minded whistleblowers who sought to uphold professional standards were bullied and harassed, ignored by those who should have protected them.

The outlook is grim.

Changing all this will take courageous political action. Where's it going to come from?

A handful of left-wing TDs have persisted in helping bring these facts to light, while suffering the usual blackguarding.

Look at what happened last week. As the Garda force reaches now lows, Fianna Fail moved to seek to benefit from the mess. It will try to increase its clout by placing a veto on the next Taoiseach's appointment of a Minister for Justice.

The public be damned, the police force be damned - let's see how the party can benefit.

This is echoed in Fine Gael, where the focus is on Enda Kenny's petty personal concerns, as he tries to hold on to one more week in office (maybe two, maybe who knows how many?).

And his would-be successors dare not show leadership in the Garda mess in case they lose ground in the struggle for office.

The old politics has no stake in reforming the Garda force. The force has been shaped by the needs of FF and FG, over decades.

The ideal solution of the right-wing parties is that things continue as they have done, but without the repeated embarrassing eruptions of the kind of scandals that upset the public.

And that can't happen. Maintain an uncivil force and this is the what you get - not guardians but warders.

As of now, FG will seek a way of ditching the current Commissioner without being damaged by its record of supporting her. FF is already seeking her head, but it seeks to do so while keeping those outside the Old Politics Cartel from taking any credit.

Sacrificing a commissioner, as Enda Kenny knew when he ejected the previous occupant of the post, is a handy way of closing down a problem. It's dramatic, there's a sense of an ending of an era, there can be grand speeches about change - and then things can go on as before.

The force needs strong, protected reformers, changing the culture of policing - and the Old Politics Cartel has no stake in that.

Hope lies in the realisation among the public that without political change we're stuck in this sordid, wasteful, damaging culture.

Until that change is created, we will pay the consequences.

Dara Quigley was, by all accounts, a caring, complex, loved person, an articulate activist. One of the good guys. She struggled over a long period to beat a drug addiction. What happened to leave her naked on the streets we don't know. What was pitifully clear was that she was in terrible need of help.

Her arrest was recorded on CCTV, in the control of gardai. Some drooling gobshite used a phone camera to copy footage of the naked woman, and somehow this was put on social media. Over 120,000 people viewed it. A garda has been suspended, and denies wrongdoing - I've no idea who was responsible, only that the original video was under the force's responsibility.

It's not good enough just to patch up such circumstances, they need urgent change. When one of us - any of us - is suffering and in need of help the force that exists to help us should not be any part of what damages us further.

Reporting on the murder of Gda Golden, RTE's Prime Time presented evidence suggesting that the killer may have been a garda informer; that this may have been why he was at large; that elements in the force knew he had access to guns; that this knowledge was not made known to the local police. The truth behind that murder has not yet been established; the truth behind the betrayal of Dara Quigley by a system that was supposed to protect her has not yet been established.

But the history of all this has drained many of us of confidence in the force, and in those who led it.

And the persistent failure to reform is not simple inefficiency.

It's because those in office are irresponsible, dangerous play-actors who will not bring about change because they have a stake in things staying as they have been.

Sunday Independent

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