Who guards the guards

Ray (raycunhm@macollamh.ucd.ie)
Thu, 19 Sep 1996 10:32:35 +0000

=46rom Workers Solidarity No 49

Who Guards the Guards

Attacking civil liberties=20
is easier than taking on
the drug barons

The terrible murder of Veronica Guerin has given rise=20
to a lot of concern about crime. Politicians are using this=20
to promote a climate of near hysteria and attack long=20
established civil liberties. Seven day detention,=20
restricting the right to silence, refusing bail and even=20
torture (the call on Joe Duffy's radio show for a return=20
to the tactics of the 1970s) have been put forward as=20

There are vicious gangland bosses. Their nicknames=20
may sound like something from a Batman film (the=20
Coach, the Boxer, even the Penguin). Their activities=20
are more like something from a horror film: heroin=20
dealing, contract killings and a threat of extreme=20
violence to anyone who gets in their way. =20

They don't exist because Ireland's laws are 'liberal'. You=20
can find crime bosses in every country, regardless of its=20
laws. They feed off deprivation and alienation: high=20
unemployment, poverty, hopelessness. =20

Recent years have certainly seen a steady increase in the=20
annual number of offences reported to the garda=ED. =20
However, it is by no means clear that the 26 counties is=20
currently experiencing any more of a crime wave than it=20
did five, ten or fifteen years ago.

Most crime is against property and a large proportion of=20
this is minor in nature - the most recent figures show=20
that over one in five larcenies involved less than =A350. =20
Offences against the person (murder, manslaughter,=20
dangerous driving causing death, rape, woundings, and=20
so forth) constitute less than 2% of all recorded crime=20
and their number has been declining.=20

The figures relating to violence against the person=20
provide a good index of personal safety and freedom=20
=66rom attack, and it is useful to remember that between=20
1988 and 1993 the number of assaults dropped by 40%. =20
In terms of violent crime against the person Ireland=20
must rank as one of the safest countries in the=20
developed world. While this is no consolation to those=20
of us who have been victims it does put things into=20
some perspective.

It is also important to remember that although the=20
crime rate has been increasing, the rise has been far less=20
dramatic than that experienced in other countries. For=20
example, between 1987 and 1994 recorded crime=20
increased by 18% here, but by 35% in England and=20

It is paradoxical that despite our relatively favourable=20
position with regard to the level of crime, there is=20
increasing public fear and the prison population has=20
been growing steadily. Indeed, a greater proportion of=20
offences results in the arrest and imprisonment of the=20
culprit than in many other European countries,=20
including England, France, Germany and the=20

The politicians are using public concern to push=20
through legal changes that can be used to attack long=20
established civil liberties. Restrictions on bail could lead=20
to a situation where people the authorities don't like=20
can be effectively interned for long periods by=20
remanding them in custody. If the intention is really to=20
reduce the number of offences committed while on bail=20
it would surely make more sense to reduce the delays in=20
getting to trial.

Seven day detention means that suspects can be=20
frightened or beaten into signing 'confessions' but that=20
their bruises will be gone by the time they allowed to see=20
a solicitor or have to appear in court. Remember Nicky=20
Kelly, remember the Guildford Four.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has interviewed a=20
number of people who have made allegations of ill-
treatment in garda custody at the Henry Street Garda=20
Station in Limerick city following the killing of a=20
Special Branchman, Garda Jerry McCabe. =20

Thirty people have been arrested under Section 30 of=20
the Offences Against the State Act for questioning in=20
connection with the Adare shooting. Three people=20
have been charged, two of whom - John Quinn and=20
Jeremiah Sheehy - have made serious allegations of=20
garda beatings while in custody. One had to be removed=20
to hospital on three separate occasions.

Geraldine McNamara and her husband Bobby from=20
Tipperary say they were subjected to racist remarks=20
about their adopted Romanian children, and Geraldine=20
was slapped and kicked.=20

Another man, arrested later, claims he was forced to=20
sign a suicide note and was then locked in a cupboard=20
for three hours. An exposed electrical flex was then=20
pushed in which he was told was live and that he=20
would be electrocuted. At another stage officers=20
produced a board with which they threatened to break=20
his back.=20

The Government has estimated that expenditure on the=20
criminal justice system will exceed =A3590 million this=20
year. This is more than has been set aside for=20
agriculture and food (=A3322 million) or transport, energy=20
and communications (=A3116 million). They want more=20
cops, more prisons, they want to convince the rest of us=20
that they are "serious" about tackling crime.

Meanwhile heroin addicts have to wait months and=20
even years to get on a treatment programme because the=20
government won't provide enough cash to shorten the=20
waiting lists. In Dublin's Killinardin estate local people=20
had to set up their own methadone programme when=20
the Health Board refused to act, and they have to fund=20
this excellent community activity by running bingo=20

Politicians are very selective about "fighting crime". =20
The government supports crime when the culprits are=20
their own friends, which is why no beef baron was ever=20
charged with fraud and why rich tax dodgers are given=20
amnesties. They never cared about the scourge of=20
heroin (and all the housebreaking and mugging that=20
goes with it) until it threatened to break out of the=20
working class areas which have had to suffer this=20
affliction since the early 1980s.

The garda=ED should not be given more powers. We have=20
seen what they can do with the powers they already=20
have: the refusal to investigate child sex abuse charges=20
against priests and nuns until recent years, the Tallaght=20
Two, the Sallins train robbery, Peter Pringle, the Kerry=20
Babies case. Most recently a murder trial in Cork=20
(Frederick Flannery) had to be abandoned when it was=20
revealed that the garda=ED had hidden vital evidence from=20
the defence.=20
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