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No accounting for it
Too many gardai with guns; the international role of the soldiers of bigotry; and a potentially significant advance in abortion law in Northern Ireland.
Eamonn McCann, 01 Aug 2003
Letterkenny Gardai in overtime ban,” said the headline. “Thank fuck,” commented Lonzo, “we might be able to make it to the square without having our heads battered in.”
Lonzo takes a rational view of policing, on account of which she’s seen by some as a madwoman.
Michael McDowell is a rabid lunatic when it comes to the cops and is therefore regarded as a reasonable fellow. He’s been blathering on about making the violence (or “force” as they are sometimes called) more accountable.
However, the main problem with the gardai, McDowell maintains, is that there’s not enough of them and “they lack adequate resources.”
The flaw in this argument is that it’s the opposite of the truth: there are too many gardai with too many instruments of oppression.
If there were fewer trigger-happy cops with fewer guns to wave around, a number of citizens – John Carthy of Abbeylara, for one – might still be among us.
Garda Sgt. John Eiffe might still be alive, too. He was shot dead at Abbeyleix in December 2001 as gunfire erupted during a bank robbery. All of the shooting came from his colleagues.
One near-certain thing we can say about these killings is that nobody will be brought to book for either.
The progress of the Barr Tribunal into how Carthy was shot in the back outside his home in April 2000 has repeatedly been thwarted by garda challenges to Justice Barr’s rulings. Observers estimate the chances of charges being brought against Carthy’s killers at nil.
An inquiry by a Garda Assistant Commissioner into the death of Sgt. Eiffe is “ongoing”.
Meanwhile, the Morris Inquiry into garda corruption in Donegal has produced evidence of planted explosives, citizens stitched up and much else of a sordid, farcical nature. But nobody seriously anticipates anybody being called to account.
It’s virtually forgotten that a young man called Dean Lyons confessed to murdering two psychiatric patients at Grangegorman in 1997, which it was later shown couldn’t be true. So, how come he’d given gardai an account of the killings? No explanation has been forthcoming.
Two garda witnesses, Liam Donnelly and John Fahy, were denounced by the trial judge as serial perjurers in the case of Colm Murphy, charged in connection with the Omagh bomb. Both are still members of the force.
In the past five years, 70 citizens have been awarded a total of €6 million for garda assaults and misbehaviour. Not one garda has been dismissed as a result.
Then there’s the case of the over-inflated tyres. Between 1998 and 2000, gardai paid €228,552 over the odds for tyres and an excess of €35,553 for other car parts. The recipient of this parcel of tax-payers’ dosh was a company called Advance Pitstop. It has been revealed that five gardai and a civilian employee at the Garda Transport Section had enjoyed holidays in Italy, Spain and Portugal, courtesy of Advance Pitstop. There’s been an inquiry. But nobody’s been made accountable.
This has been a random selection from the small percentage of cases which have made it into the media.
Meanwhile, we have to plough through thickets of prose keeping us abreast of McDowell’s plans to make the gardai more “accountable.”
“The thing is,” Lonzo elaborated as we reached the Dry Arch Inn, “The real purpose of the police is to keep the people down.” To make them accountable would be to contradict their raison d’être. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and wary scepticism of the cops’ every move. This is a do-it-yourself duty. We cannot count on the foxy-faced likes of McDowell.
The “pro-life” zealots won, supporters of a woman’s right to choose lost. That has been reported as the result of the Family Planning Association’s attempt to force the Department of Health in the North to issue guidelines clarifying the law on abortion. But a closer look suggests a more optimistic outcome.
The case was launched in 2001 after then Health Minister Bairbre de Brun had, predictably, run away from the issue. However, in the High Court in Belfast this month, Mr. Justice Kerr turned down the FPA’s judicial review application. Cue ecstatic scenes of demented crazies jitter-bugging in celebration outside the court. I was reminded of the crazies’ response to the passage of the Abortion Referendum in the South 20 years ago. Less than a decade later, in the “X” case, the amendment was interpreted to mean the opposite of what the crazies had assumed it to mean.
The core of Kerr’s ruling was not that all’s well with the way abortion law operates in the North, but that it is clinical practice and not legal practice which needs clarifying. Abortion, he declared, is legal “for the purpose of preserving the life of the mother.” In this context, he elaborated, “life” includes the woman’s physical and mental health. In each case, it is “a question of fact and degree” whether the risk to life or health is sufficient to bring an abortion within the law: “a value judgment of some subtlety and complexity,” is called for, and “that judgment must be made by the clinician who is responsible for the case of the woman who seeks a termination.”
On the face of it, this means that abortion is legal in the North if, in the opinion of the woman’s doctor, continuing the pregnancy will put her life or heath at serious risk. There’s no need for guidelines to make this clear, said Kerr, which is why he turned the FPA application down.
Sooner or later, maybe sooner, a doctor is going to step up to the mark and test this ruling in practice. Almost unnoticed, we may just have seen a most significant advance in abortion law on this island.
Fianna fail to blame shock
Secular friends across the water are seething about the Blair government agreeing to exempt religious institutions from an EU equality directive. I haven’t had the heart to tell them that it’s Fianna Fail, not New Labour, they should be blaming.
Three years ago in this space, we highlighted the fact that at a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg, John O’Donoghue, then Minister for Justice, managed to have a clause inserted in a directive, guaranteeing that none of its provisions would threaten the “ethos” of Church-controlled schools. O’Donoghue boasted to the Irish Catholic that he had won out “in the teeth of strong opposition” and only after threatening to use his veto to scupper the entire proposal.
On the basis of the O’Donoghue exemption, Christian, Muslim and Jewish lobbies ganged up at Westminster last month to ensure that lesbians and gay men, atheists and people living together without marriage, could not have recourse to equality laws if sacked from
a job in a religious-controlled institution.
The Anglican Bishop of Blackburn told the House of Lords that, “Churches and faith communities need to maintain a broad measure of freedom to determine their own requirements in relation to the sexual conduct of those who wish to serve or represent them”.
Lord Alli argued in response, “This feels more like a provision dreamed up by the Taliban than one suitable for a mature democracy”. He wasn’t to know that it had been dreamed up by Fianna Fail.
Thus, discrimination on grounds of religious belief and sexual orientation has been re-legalised. Understandable, I suppose, that Fianna Fail hasn’t been advertising its role in the affair. But strange that gay activists in Dublin haven’t raised a protest against the Soldiers of Bigotry providing a basis for continued oppression not just in Ireland but across Europe.