Saturday 2 October 2010

To Serve and Protect: The Case of the Dáil 'Gatecrasher'

"Iceland is a country with a banking system attached. In contrast, Ireland is a banking system with a country attached to it"
So says David McWilliams in a piece he penned a while back, contrasting the response of the Icelandic government with that of their Irish counterparts; in terms of their response to the impact of the meltdown of the global financial system on both countries.

When presented with the bill the Icelandic government put the issue to the people in a referendum. This week the Irish government revealed the likely 'final' cost of bailing out Anglo-Irish Bank. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was reported as saying:
"Yes, of course, these figures are horrendous, but they can be managed over a 10-year period." - Irish Independent, 1/10/10. 

There was no talk of a referendum and the prospect of one seems remote; unless an election is called and that election becomes an effective referendum on the present government's performance and the future approach to take.

Another event took place this week which more dramatically illustrates the contention that 'Ireland is a banking system with a country attached.' During a protest outside the gates of Dáil Éireann an incident occurred with resulted in the arrest of a truck driver (later described as a property developer with unspecified grievances against Anglo-Irish Bank). The truck was emblazoned with various slogans describing Anglo-Irish Bank as a 'toxic bank'.

It is not clear the precise nature of the offence, if any. Initial reports suggested that he attempted to crash the gates of Dáil Éireann. There were even reports (which some have ascribed to Fine Gael TD, Phil Hogan) "that one garda had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by the oncoming truck" - implying of course that lives had been endangered by such an act.

In subsequent reports however this has been downplayed to the suggestion that he merely:
"drove the cement lorry ... up against the Leinster House gates ... just hours before TDs were due to begin the new Dail term. The vehicle was travelling slowly and a small amount of paint damage was caused to the gates." - Irish Independent, 30/9/10

The protestor was arrested under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act. There has been much comment and comparison in the media between this treatment of a protestor, who has been charged with criminal damage, and the fact that those who have bankrupted the country are walking free.

In court on Friday the man's solicitor, Cahir O'Higgins told the judge that his client very much protested his innocence citing his constitutional right under "Article 40.6.1 to express freely his convictions and opinions." (Irish Times, 1/10/10)

The Irish Independent provided the fullest coverage of the court proceedings:
Sgt John Egan, presenting, said the gardai agreed to bail for Mr McNamara on two conditions -- that he stay away from Anglo Irish Bank headquarters on St Stephen's Green and that he not come to the unfavourable attention of the gardai. 
However, the judge demurred from the first condition, saying that anyone going to any bank must go "lawfully and not commit any offence". 
The judge agreed with Mr O'Higgins to further clarify in the bail conditions that Mr McNamara should not come to the "unlawful" attention of the gardai. - Irish Independent, 1/10/10

There a couple of questions arising out of this affair that have much deeper ramifications than parking violations and public order.

Why did the prosecuting Garda only request that the defendant (Mr McNamara) stay away from the HQ of Anglo Irish Bank? The incident occured outside the headquarters of Irish democracy - Dáil Éireann. If the behaviour on that occasion was threatening or violent then it is tantamount to an assault upon democracy and the foundations of the Irish state. Prosecution should proceed from this standpoint.

What does it reveal when terms like 'unfavourable attention of the gardaí' are clarified in favour of 'unlawful attention'? The stated mission of An Garda Síochána is 'Working with Communities to Protect and Serve'.
Some of An Garda Síochána’s core functions include the detection and prevention of crime; ensuring our nation’s security; reducing the incidence of fatal and serious injuries on our roads and improving road safety; and working with communities to prevent anti-social behaviour, promote an inter-agency approach to problem solving and improve the overall quality of life. - from the website of An Garda Síochána.

On the surface, all of these are very laudable objectives; so in a normally functioning society unfavourable attention and unlawful attention of such a force would be tantamount to the same thing. In the instance of Mr McNamara and Anglo-Irish Bank however, a judge has ruled that this is not the case. Think about it!

Another apparent irony is that, in this instance An Garda Síochána seem to have placed the safety and security of Anglo-Irish Bank above the safety of their own membership. There was no report of Mr McNamara being charged with endangering the life of a Garda which, according to some reports did occur. Assaults, or even the threat of assault upon members of An Garda Síochána are generally taken very seriously by law enforcement authorities in Ireland; often pursued with much more vigour than attacks against ordinary civilians.

Although Anglo-Irish Bank is now nationalised it widely perceived as a weight around the collective neck which threatens to sink us all. How can it suggested that the security of such an institution is more important than the security of Dáil Éireann which still serves some function in Irish life?

But then that would not be surprising if you take the view that Ireland is a banking system with a country attached.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2010

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