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DRUGS RAID IN INISHOWEN
BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON THE GARDAI
Eamonn McCann, 19 Oct 1994
A FEW weeks ago, on a Friday night, a huge force of gardai descended on the small Inishowen village of Quigley’s Point and stormed into a disco at a popular local venue, the Point Inn. Kathy, an 18 year-old who was there, recalls what happened.
“It was terrifying. They came pouring in in dark uniforms waving batons and roaring to ‘Get back’ and ‘Get up against the wall’ and anybody who didn’t move fast enough was thumped. Some of them had helmets on and heavy jackets. They were all excited and angry. It happened all of a sudden. There was a commotion and the whole place was filled with them before you had a chance to think.
“The lights went on in the middle of the confusion and the music stopped and there were chairs and tables everywhere, with people running and scrambling. A lot of people were screaming. There were bangs which sounded like shots, or I thought that at the time. My first thought was that it was something to do with paramilitaries. I dived under a seat at the side. I was shivering. The shouting kept going on, and then I got up and looked around.
“They were grabbing people out of the crowd and pulling at them. People were diving in behind one another and being dragged out with arms around their necks and pushed around. I was trying to press in behind people. People were being ordered to turn out their pockets and empty their bags, but there was complete mayhem. Nobody knew what was going to happen.
“A lot of fellows were shouting ‘fascists’ and saying they had no right and there were guards roaring at them to shut up and ‘Keep your fucking mouth closed’. The people who shouted out were grabbed and some of them were hit. There were girls crying and hugging one another. Everyone was terrified.”
A Garda spokesman said afterwards that 80 officers had been involved, although the owner of the venue insisted that there were as many as 200 inside and surrounding his premises. He said that he had been ignored when he demanded to see a warrant, although one was shown to him later, and complained that the incident had amounted to an “assault on civil liberties.” He called on local public representatives to speak out in defence of his customers and of their right to attend the Point Inn disco without mass intimidation.
Whether it was 80 or 200 guards, it was a formidable assembly of uniformed men with authority to deploy in a small place. Quigley’s Point has a scattered population of around 400. The weekly disco is the biggest regular event in the area, drawing young people from Derry 10 miles away and from the more immediate locality.
It goes without saying that no public representative answered the call for protests against the Garda action. The stated reason for the military scale operation had to do with “drugs.” And once mention is made of “drugs”, rationality and all sensitivity to civil liberties tends to go by the board.
All sorts of elements in this area who can usually be counted on to flash out instant press statements protesting when the cops come the heavy in any other context sing dumb when there’s even a hint of “drugs” being involved. So hundreds of people, most of them teenagers, were physically intimidated and herded like animals and generally treated in a way which would be considered outrageous and unacceptable on any other occasion, and almost nobody at all spoke up for them.
Of course there are drugs available at Point Inn discos. The operation uncovered small amounts, all of the “soft” variety, and that’s been used since in the north west to argue that, on balance, the Garda operation was justified. Or that at least there’s two sides to this story. Maybe the guards were a bit heavy-handed, but at the same time there was a serious problem here, something had to be done . . . Lesser of two evils and all that. This isn’t an argument which would be accepted on the basis of suspicion of any other sort of crime.
If the cops in almost any other situation corralled hundreds of people, treated them like dirt and left a sizeable number of them in tears of distress and tried to justify themselves afterwards by claiming that there had been, say, muggers among them, there’d be stern editorials in mainstream newspapers, pointing out that citizens still have some rights, including the right to go freely about their business unless there’s evidence that they had personally committed a crime, and that the price of retaining these rights is vigilance against the excesses of the State.
But when it’s young people who are involved and there’s a whisper of “drugs”, the guardians of freedom all look the other way. Politically-minded people who yield to nobody in their militant opposition to State oppression when it’s to do with some cause that they favour sing dumb when it’s mere “ravers” who are on the receiving end.
There’s a class element in it, too. Would the gardai pile mob-handed into a ball at the Shelbourne and rough up anybody who stood in their way, and roar at them to keep their fucking mouths closed if they objected, and rip out the music and turf everybody unceremoniously from the premises out onto Stephen’s Green in their dickey bows and stupid frocks without any suggestion of a reason to believe that the vast majority had been guilty of wrong doing of any kind?
On what basis other than class is it deemed acceptable for young people from Donegal and Derry at a fiver-in disco in Quigley’s Point to be treated differently?
WAY TO GO, WEYMAN!
Still supporting the right to party party, a word of well done is due to my new hero Weyman Bennett, the chubby black with the right specs who emerged as main spokesperson for the Coalition against the Criminal Justice Bill which ran that brilliant demo in London a fortnight ago which ended in scenes of excitement, as sinister-looking members of the Metropolitan Police repeatedly assaulted the colourful youngsters who had come along to express their sense of freedom.
Weyman appeared on any number of news programmes and in an extended interview on Radio Five Live in which he was insistently invited to disown the “trouble makers” and “violent minority”, a reference to those who found themselves on the receiving end of the police violence – or “force” as it is sometimes called – and some of whom exercised their right to self-defence.
There is a standard ritual in these matters whereby spokespersons for the “official organisers” of demonstrations which end in disorder explain that the vast majority of demonstrators were entirely peaceful and that the media have been unfair in highlighting the incidents of violence which involved only a small and unrepresentative minority. Some mild criticism of insensitive or inappropriate police methods might also be ventured.
But Weyman was having none of that. The cops provoked the violence and perpetrated almost all of it, he maintained, accurately. It was the police who should be charged with assault, breaches of the peace, threatening behaviour and whatever else. In every interview that I saw he managed to get in that the Criminal Justice Bill is a comprehensive attack on the remaining rights of the British people and that he hoped there would be even bigger numbers out on the next manifestation of people’s anger against it.
We had an excellent little anti-Criminal Justice Bill demonstration in Belfast on the same weekend as the London march, full of hunt saboteurs, ravers, painted face folk, trade unionists and freelance libertarians, most pleasantly festooned with those exquisitely designed Socialist Worker placards which enrage the prematurely brain dead. And we are going to have more of them.
The CJB will give the cops in Britain and the North a wide array of new powers to misuse, and will import into “ordinary” law many of the measures which are already in place in the North under “emergency” legislation. It will, for example, allow the cops to declare illegal the open-air playing of music characterised by “a succession of repetitive beats”, which as far as I am aware is the first time in the history of the world that a law has defined and targeted a particular style of music.
Not only will the music have to stop: the CJB will give the police the “right” to prevent anyone they don’t like the look of entering a five-mile radius area around the site where the music is to be played. It’s aimed at raves, of course, because the cloth-eared establishment in Britain, as in Ireland, find the sight and sound of large numbers of people having fun for no apparent reason deeply disturbing.
They hate the attitudes of non-conformism and implied rebellion which it suggests. It’s of a piece with their hatred of hippies, new-age travellers, dope-smokers and other decent elements, drawn from the same putrid well as their racism, sexism and generalised bigotry.
Newspaper reports on the day after the London demo claimed that 27 people had been injured, including 11 police officers. This can be disregarded. Statistics for casualties in confrontations with the police are always wrong. The figure for police injuries invariably comes from the police themselves. Any cop who has stubbed a toe on a citizen’s face will be accounted a casualty. But the demonstrators rarely have the means to collate and disseminate information of this sort.
Typically, people inured by the cops avail of makeshift first-aid, nurse their injuries and go home. Only those so badly hurt that they have to attend hospital are included in casualty lists. The system operates automatically to inflate police casualties and diminish the extent of police violence.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Writing in the Guardian in the week after the demonstration, Sheila Rowbotham suggested that generally speaking “only a minority of police . . . personally want a physical fight with demonstrators (and) spoil things for the other peaceful police.” Any maybe so. But how come, then, that the violent minority in the police ranks seems always able to dictate the actions of the police presence as a whole?
The police, unlike the demonstrators, are under a centralised command and operating a strategy determined in advance. And their violence is never disowned by their senior command afterwards. It is irrational to arrive at any conclusion other than that police violence at demonstrations is usually a matter of official policy.
As Ms. Rowbotham herself went on to observe: “It looks suspiciously as if the police authority wanted the confrontation with those they could marginalise as (she quotes the Daily Mail here) ‘squatters, New Age Travellers and motorway protesters (who) had been seen defying police in incidents across the country in recent months’.”
The ranting of the Mail highlights one of the most positive developments in British politics for decades – the involvement in a whole series of campaigns and protest demonstrations of young people who just a few years ago would have scorned “politics” and expressed their alienation from the rotten society around them by opting out and adopting a dissident life style. Now, like the marchers in Belfast a fortnight ago, they are getting stuck in. The roamers and ravers are becoming politicised and providing socialism with a leavening of imagination to carry it relevantly into the future.
The ruling class is becoming real wary. There will be more police violence in both Britain and Ireland in the time ahead, and more strenuous efforts to marginalise and malign citizens who stand up for themselves. But we have been forewarned.
F F F F F F
There’s nothing neater than a passing little upbeat coincidence such as I found in the last issue of Hot Press.
Reviewing the Queen’s Freshers’ Ball James Elliot referred to Wasp Factory front-woman Sarah Townsend as “the young Toyah Wilcox”, which was exactly the thought which had been hovering in my head since I had the undiluted pleasure of seeing Ms. Townsend and then Ms. Wilcox successively at Bound for Boston in Derry last month.
I’ve had a thing about Toyah Wilcox since a gig at the Simmonscourt Pavilion in the RDS many moons ago which I number among the great rock and roll experiences of my time. She was big then, and had drawn maybe 6-7,000 of the most unthreateningly unruly fans ever to congregate in that unsuitable venue. I can’t remember many of the songs in her set but I have a sharp focus memory of her, a small, glistening, scantily clad figure in vivid ochre red hair prowling the stage and exuding sexual excitement such as to transform the bleak arena into a succulent occasion of sin.
Towards the end, the mayhem at the front overwhelmed the security and she was swamped onstage by scores of haywire dervishes, among whom, sometimes lost from sight, she leapt and whirled and sang on, until she had drawn in and magically imposed improvised choreography on the chaos. That done, she emerged from the compression and, still in control and the band down below pumping ever more furiously, climbed scaffolding at the back of the stage to climax the performance crawling along a narrow plank path 20 feet up, exulting that she wanted to turn the world upside down, and life inside out and to be free.
It was a performance of enormous power and self-confidence, with an audience rapport I’ve rarely seen equalled. When I talked to her at Bound for Boston I began by mentioning, “I saw you at the RDS in Dublin years ago,” at which she instantly sparkled in response, “Oh, I’m so pleased you remember that, that was the night the stage was invaded and I climbed up the scaffolding. It was wonderful for me.”
I’m not sure why, but I was immoderately chuffed that she remembered it, and in just the way I did. It confirmed, I suppose, that my recall of it as something extra-special wasn’t just wilful imagining, and that the experience hadn’t resulted from professional contrivance on her part, but from genuine, spontaneous genius. Lovely when a memory clouded by romance turns out to have been for real.
Sarah Townsend is beautiful and so sweet you’d worry about her, and I’ll work the worries out at greater length some time soon. But the form line back to Toyah bodes well. What struck me most at Bound for Boston was the way her self-effacement and even self-mockery on stage sat easily with confident leadership of the band.
She’s preppy and sexy at the same time, given to teasing and cajoling the crowd to do her bidding, always herself but never losing the character. She resembled Toyah most of all in that the self-effacement and even self-mockery sat easily with her confident control of the band and the gig.
She’s young enough in experience and, I think, not yet certain what direction to take. The band is bright, poppy, danceable and already with a handful of good songs. You can never tell about these things, but they might well get a shot at it. Worth watching, and lending an ear.
And while Sarah is entirely her own woman, “a young Toyah Wilcox” ain’t a bad line for the early bios.
Rave on, all.