There are no flies on Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan but he does have a rather dodgy moustache distracting attention from his message and I don’t like the idea that our national police force is headed by Freddie Mercury.
Martin doesn’t like the idea of individual guards breaking ranks and revealing facts about The Force, because, of course, he himself made his way through the progression as all commissioners have done before him, pounding the beat, studying for the Sergeant’s exams, making Inspector, then getting Super, followed by Chief and on and on and on. Martin knows full well the shit that goes on in the Guards, and if he doesn’t he’s not fit to be the head of our police force, but let’s not forget, this is the Commissioner who felt entitled to dismiss out of hand the findings of High Court judge regarding the force he leads.
As I’ve often pointed out here before, an Garda Síochána is more like a Masonic brotherhood than a police force. I’m not aware of any other European law-enforcement agency that refers to its employees as Members — are you? In the building boom, and long before that, going right back to the Sixties, the Guards we well known as inveterate purchasers of real estate. Many a penniless student, including myself, right through the following decades, rented houses and flats from fresh-faced young Gardai the same age as ourselves, though probably much older in their outlook. These solid sons of farmers didn’t look too kindly on hippies like me.
I’m also not aware of a European police force that segregates all its neophytes into a single monastic environment like Templemore, inculcating the idea that the general public are all potential lawbreakers (or gougers as the Gardai refer to them). As far as I’m aware, there is no possibility to recruit highly-qualified professional people into An Garda Síochána at a senior level. There is no other Irish public-service organisation that does this and to the best of my knowledge, no other European law-enforcement agency has a single-tier entry system, in which all senior staff start at the bottom, though I’m open to correction.
Whatever spin Martin Callinan might be trying to put on this whistle-blower controversy, the truth is that he’s pissing up a rope, because every single person in Ireland knows what the Guards are like. Every Irish adult remembers getting summonses fixed. Every trader knows about the pressure to supply goods at cost or below in order to retain the goodwill of the local police. The Guards even have a word for this: Hawk. One of them has a hawk in vacuum cleaners and another has a hawk in computers. It’s part of the Garda language.
We all know this. Why are we pretending it doesn’t exist?
Who hasn’t, at the very least, considered the possibility of getting something fixed?
Now, Martin Callinan’s barely-disguised contempt for the Public Accounts Committee was, to my mind, very revealing, because it lifted the veil briefly on the central problem afflicting An Garda Síiochána which is this: the organisation doesn’t know what its role is. Is it a security service or is it a police force?
A security service like MI5, is a properly secret organisation, amenable only to the appropriate government minister and, by virtue of national security, outside normal democratic constraints. A police force, on the other hand, is simply that: an organisation responsible for civil policing, fighting crime, managing traffic and attending to the general business of public order.
In Ireland, since the foundation of the State, the two functions have been conflated and this has, in my view, tended to encourage on the one hand, an abuse of personal authority by individual Gardai and on the other a general feeling of impunity in the organisation as a whole. Of course, needless to mention, the activities of the fearless Freedom Fighters in recent decades has only served to consolidate this viewpoint among the force’s “members”.
This is not to suggest that the majority of Gardai are either corrupt or power-mad. I’ve personally known extraordinarily dedicated policemen and women, but Ireland is Ireland. We know how this place works, and when Martin Callinan issues veiled threats towards those members of his force who might be prepared to reveal the dark secrets, all he does is damage his credibility and that of the force he leads.
When the head of an organisation that is not only a police force, but also a security service, displays such insolence to elected members of our national parliament, we need to take the implications very seriously indeed.