Who let the dogs out?

12 Feb

So these past few days we’ve seen how the Irish state and their protectors – the Gardaí – react to political protests: dawn raids, arresting minors and attempting to disgrace the only few credible politicians that represent us. This has come as a shock to many people in Ireland as few expected that the Government could be so hypocritical in daring to call water charge activists, anti-democratic. There will be more arrests, there will be more accusations of “violent” protest, but we know one thing, we must be doing something right. What I want to share with you here is the levels our police force will go to, to shut down our democratic avenues of disapproval.

In April 2012, people across Ireland were mobilising to oppose the introduction of the household charge. A protest was called to coincide with the Labour Party conference in Galway with over 1000 people attending on a Saturday afternoon. What I want to draw attention to is the night before that demonstration. A few student activists, including myself, decide to check out the security measures that were in place on the campus of NUIG to deal with the upcoming protest. We walked around the grounds noting the amount of barriers and security already in place. Once we’d done a full lap of the area we headed off, walking a route we all regularly used as students of NUI Galway. It was while we walked near the river on the campus that an unmarked car stopped us and two plainclothes Guards approached us.

We were immediately informed that we were being searched under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Naturally we were all massively confused and some of us refused to comply. I was arrested and brought to the car after a minuscule amount of cannabis was found in my tobacco pouch. Whilst in the car, both Guards present made thinly veiled threats about informing my parents and workplace of the situation I found myself in. I’m usually never shy to open my mouth, but in this case, I stayed quiet and looked at the floor. On entering the station I was finger-printed, but not in the usual way; every single patch on both of my hands was mapped and I was informed that I wouldn’t be there for long so I didn’t need a phone call or legal representation. It’s what happened next, that to this day, leads me to never trust the Gardaí.

I was brought into an interview room and told that there were no cameras present. Both detectives produced their phones, switched them off and placed them on the table. I was told to take out my phone and was given a phone number to take down. I was then informed that this number is for me to contact once I leave the station. It was put to me that I am involved in a lot of protests around Galway and that therefore I would know what would be happening at the demonstration planned for the next day. It was reiterated that my family and my managers at work wouldn’t be too happy with me being found with cannabis on me so it was in my interests to comply. I was then asked to be a tout, an informant if you wish; they wanted me to give them information on any upcoming protests and any political groups I was involved with. It was made clear to me that any charges in relation to the possession of cannabis would be dropped if I worked with them on stifling genuine democratic grassroots opposition to Government policy. The number I was given was for me to contact in the coming days and weeks if I didn’t feel like giving information at present.

The two Guards told me not to bother telling others about this episode as it would be a case of their word against mine. They said that when I left the station I was to just give out about the Gardaí as I usually do but to not mention this conversation in any respect. I was obviously never going to comply, little did I know the consequences for me as a result. I left the room and joined my friends informing them of the incident. We decided that I move on  and act as if it never happened. The next day I was pepper-sprayed at the protest along with many others. In the weeks and months that followed I received a number of summons to my parent’s house in relation to assaulting the Guards (I spat the pepper-spray out when it was used on me), public disorder (I cried out loud and swore when the pepper-spray hit my eyes and mouth), criminal damage (I was apparently seen on CCTV standing beside people doing political graffiti on an empty building in NUIG) and of course possession of cannabis. All of these went to court and they were dragged out for over a year until the end of 2013. As a result my life was severely affected which played a large part in me moving to London for 6 months in 2013. In the end I avoided any charges by paying the Gardaí over €1500 in compensation and providing the court with a book of references from lecturers, politicians and previous managers. It was the process of being dragged through the court system that they wanted to impose on me, and they succeeded.

I’m going to be honest, I feel a bit wary publishing this. I ended up making a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman but to no avail. In the complaint I included how I was told that I was “easily distinguishable” by the Guards, in relation to my mixed ethnic background. However the casual racism is nothing compared to the level of intimidation I had to face over that period of time. From being stopped on the way to a meeting in a Local Employment Service Network, to being grabbed and thrown into a bush at a protest in the middle of these events; I was punished for not informing. These are just a few of the things the people of Ireland will have to face for daring to organise or attend protests at the current time. I’m still active, i’m still organising and i’m still making my views heard; but this episode will stay with me for the rest of my life. The Gardaí are not on our side and in times of unrest, they are the State’s armed wing and they will pull out all the stops to damage those involved in giving the people a voice in their opposition to austerity.


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