Policing politicians is not ‘political policing’

IMG_3328EDITORIAL: A number of arrests were made following the protest against water charges in Jobstown, Tallaght subsequent to the Tanaiste being delayed in her car for two hours. In the follow-up investigation of this politically-charged event, gardaí needed to interview the identified protagonists under caution. This is an issue of operational policing, and as such, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. If anyone has any complaints about the way it was implemented then they have the opportunity to make a complaint to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

Dáil Deputy Paul Murphy was arrested early in the morning at his home in connection with the Jobstown protest; not by appointment at his local garda station. Six members were deployed to secure his arrest – a scenario described as “designed to undermine the anti-water charges movement”. Several other arrests were simultaneously made of other people to avoid compromising the investigation or contaminating statements.

Let’s be clear. Operational policing methods are always subject to scrutiny. When police officers arrest someone early in the morning from their home there are a number of proper and appropriate reasons for this, accompanying a risk assessment to minimise any harm or inconvenience to the public. The time is selected on the basis of when the target is most likely to be at home.

No matter what the reasons for the arrest, despite local intelligence gardaí can seldom be absolutely certain of the number of people present at the address, or what might be there. Should TDs be treated differently from the rest of the population? Is that what is inferred in ‘political policing’? Just because Mr Murphy is an elected member of the Dáil, for example, should gardaí naturally infer that he does not own a dog capable of biting? Are Dáil deputies to be afforded different treatment in criminal investigations?

All of these factors need to be taken into account in any risk assessment. Public safety and care for the occupants depends on there being sufficient gardaí to maintain order in whatever circumstances arise – and people woken from their sleep may often act out of character or irrationally. Furthermore, no garda making an arrest can be sure of any reaction – depriving someone of their liberty is a power that brings great responsibility. Sometimes six members might be surplus to requirements, other times it may prove insufficient.

The arrest of Paul Murphy TD was described as ‘politically motivated’, ‘over the top’ and ‘heavy-handed’ – suggesting that garda resources should be deployed differently. Would those same voices have supported an invitation issued to Paul Murphy TD to attend an interview in a garda station at a specified time – if a resultant mass protest deteriorated into a public order situation?

Since its foundation the Garda Representative Association has campaigned vociferously against political interference in policing. There is no evidence to suggest that any aspect of this investigation was subject to political interference – yet once again politicians are quick to use policing as a tool of political communication; thrusting it into partisan politics.

“Political interference in policing in Ireland has been widespread since the formation of the State, yet political policing is a misnomer in the case of the anti-water charges movement. Gardaí have a job to do that doesn’t always suit the protagonists; but making political capital out of policing always suits the critics.”

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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