|Date:||5th September 1984|
|Organisation:||Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist)|
|Issue:||Volume 8, Number 17|
|Discuss:||Comments on this document|
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This is a personal overview of the following document by Joe, often times commentor on the CLR, for which many thanks.
I was 24 in 1984. I was paid, permanent and pensionable as a library assistant with Dublin Corporation libraries. Me and my three best friends used to drink in town at the weekends. Often in the Palace Bar. My three mates were apolitical, centrist voters. I always made a point of buying the socialist and republican papers which sellers would offer to the Palace drinkers of a Friday or Saturday night.
Around that time there was a campaign called the Campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill. This Bill was giving new powers to the Gardaí to detain suspects for longer without charge and I think also would allow a court to take an inference from the fact that a suspect remained silent or didn’t answer particular questions while in custody. We thought it was a draconian attack on civil liberties. There have been quite a few more criminal justice bills since then. And my attitudes to some of the issues around that have changed too. More of that anon.
The campaign against the bill was led by Joe Costello of the Prisoners Rights Organisation. Costello was a secondary teacher in the North Inner City. He had seen many of his ex-pupils sent to prison and seen the damage prison had done to them. He’d heard their accounts of prison life and had set up the PRO as a campaign for prison reform and prisoners’ rights. And fair play to him. It was an active campaigning group, speaking on behalf of people who had no voice, the kind of people who were “born for the Joy”. Joe Costello is now Labour TD for Dublin Central and I don’t think the PRO still exists. Is there anything on it or by it in the Left Archive? There should be.
So why was I, a middle-class boy, bothered about the Criminal Justice Bill and extra powers for the Gardaí? It could be down to this incident which happened about 10 years earlier. Me and my young teenage friends used to hang around and do random acts of pretty harmless vandalism in our area. Lighting fires in the field, knick knacking on doors, silly stuff. One evening, bored, one of the lads lit a random bit of paper on the street and we all ran. It was the thrill of running, wasn’t it? A feeling that you were being chased (even though we weren’t!), that little butterfly in the tummy. Anyway me and another Joe rounded the corner of our road into a cul de sac just as a random Garda car did the same. We were caught rapid. The two cops got out. The other Joe was with one Guard on one side of the street. I was with another on the other side. He asked me my name and as I opened my mouth to answer he smacked me hard with his open hand across my face. He then proceeded to ask me something about five times and each time before I could answer I got a very hard smack across the face. I was bawling crying by the end of it. They put us into the car to bring us to the station. At the top of the road, they said something about letting us off this time. And let us out. From that time, through all my teenage years, I hated the Guards with a passion. All coppers were bastards. Hitting me was bad enough but they had shown me up in front of my friend – I’d cried like a little baby.
So if that could happen to middle class Joe in about 1974, what was happening to inner city and suburban kids from the wrong side of the tracks? Fr Peter McVerry was good on this on the telly several years ago. He said that Garda brutality was a fact of life for working class kids in the usual areas. If they were picked up for minor crimes, they could expect a hammering. And many of them would end up in the jails which the PRO wanted reformed. They’d end up as prisoners getting abused inside by the prison system as opposed to getting abused outside by the “justice system”. And they’d probably hate the cops a lot more than I ever did. And many of them would be broken by this treatment and end up as fodder for heroin dealers or end up homeless or suicidal or dead.
So that’s why I opposed the Criminal Justice Bill and bought a badge which said Stop the Criminal Justice Bill and marched against it. And I bought the Voice of Revolution one evening in the Palace, opened it up, and there I was, tall and proud, walking on a demo in front of the banner of the CPI (ML). Yep, that’s me the tall handsome chap with the beard and glasses (Gerry Adams anyone? John Lennon?). So I kept that copy along with other bits in a drawer at home. I found it the other day along with this letter which I had drafted to send to the papers at the time. (There had been a lot of coverage around that time in Magill magazine, if I recall correctly, of instances of alleged Garda brutality, corruption and so on.) I never sent the letter but I think it deserves to be published now!
Over the last year I have joined with hundreds of others in marching and campaigning against the Criminal Justice Bill. We failed in our objective. The Criminal Justice Act is now law.
However, in the light of recent revelations about the behaviour of Gardaí of all ranks – Shercock, Kerry babies, the fingerprint case – it is clear that the need to campaign for civil liberties is as strong as ever. Indeed when the three cases above are looked at together with other past Garda misdemeanours – the cases of Nicky Kelly, Christy Lynch, Eamon Byrne, to name but three – it must be clear to all that the Gardaí are far from perfect.
May I suggest a new campaign with a new objective?
Disband the Gardaí! Now!
Is mise etc