For Dara

An Garda Síochána’s most recently available ‘Strategy Statement’ for 2016-2018, readily available online, begins with a summary of its apparent values as an organisation.

It outlines service, honesty, accountability, respect, professionalism and empathy as its core values.

Dara Quigley was a wonderfully talented writer, a prolific commentator on the multitude of injustices ordinary people face, an imaginative and devastatingly funny woman. She left a lasting impression on anyone who was fortunate enough to become acquainted with her. Empathy, respect and professionalism are most certainly not the values of An Garda Síochana that she endured prior to her death.

Throughout Dara’s life, it’s clear she deserved – and needed – so much more from a cold-hearted State than she got, and its inability to provide her with adequate care is another indictment of how ineffective and linear our services are – in mental health provision, in drug policy, in education. Whatever about the state’s failings throughout Dara’s struggles though, the downright derision she was treated with by An Garda Síochana in her final days is so sickening, so appalling – it can not be understated and it should never be forgotten.[pullquote]Throughout Dara’s life, it’s clear she deserved – and needed – so much more from a cold-hearted State than she got.[/pullquote]

The nature of her arrest was incredibly problematic in itself. She was manhandled with excessive force by several officers, despite posing no threat whatsoever, to anyone – and it’s clear that no attempt was made to deal with her calmly or respectfully. Professionalism?

Even that’s a drop in the ocean in comparison with what followed. A Garda monitoring CCTV remotely thought it appropriate to record the arrest – that is, to record a clearly distressed naked woman being pushed and shoved aggressively by 4 officers – and circulate it with his buddies in a WhatsApp group. It subsequently travelled to Facebook and was seen over 100,000 times before its removal. Empathy?

Not only does the aforementioned Garda Strategy Statement list empathy as one of its core values, it explicitly outlines a goal of “demonstrating empathy through the human qualities of compassion, understanding and tolerance.”

This couldn’t be further from the reality Dara faced. She faced aggression, misogyny and disgusting contempt. She died within days of the video of her arrest being circulated. And the officer who recorded it? Suspended with full pay, pending an investigation.

Unfortunately, the sentence ‘suspended with full pay, pending an investigation’ doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence given where it’s coming from. This, after all, is an organisation which has waged an all-out war on whistleblowers – and left a very clear impression upon its members that while the infrastructure exists to report corruption, doing so comes at a price – expect harassment and manipulation from the very top of the food chain. Ask Maurice McCabe. Ask John Wilson. Ask Nick Keogh. Ask Keith Harrison. Ask David Taylor. Honesty?

Maurice McCabe -
Maurice McCabe, image source

Or, how about James Gill, the Garda Sergeant who, in 2011, was recorded making a joke about raping a female protester in the midst of the Shell to Sea campaign? He escaped any action because he had recently retired from the force when the case was brought forward, and the Garda Ombudsman concluded there were no grounds for any criminal case. Accountability?

Terence Wheelock was 20 years old when he died in September 2005, having endured severe injuries in Garda custody three months previously. An Garda Síochana reported that Terence committed suicide in his cell – a claim refuted strongly by his family to this day. He was well known in the north inner-city as healthy and outgoing, and had no history of self-harm, nor had there been any indication he’d been struggling with mental health issues.

When an investigation was launched into Terence’s death, the Garda Commissioner appointed Detective Superintendent Oliver Hanly to lead – Hanly had previously served in Store Street station, where Terence had been detained, for 15 years.

The family campaigned for justice around the north inner-city, believing the Garda investigation was predetermined. The extent of harassment and intimidation they faced by Gardaí in the aftermath forced them to move out of their home in Summerhill. Respect?[pullquote]When you’re vulnerable, or courageous enough to speak out, a culture of heavy-handedness, suppression and intimidation permeates through every engagement.[/pullquote]

The common thread running through every story I’m told by people who’ve had negative experiences (and I’ve had plenty of my own) with the Guards – whether migrants, in working class communities, rough sleepers, drug users, sex workers, whistleblowers or protestors – is that when you’re vulnerable, or courageous enough to speak out, a culture of heavy-handedness, suppression and intimidation permeates through every engagement – even those that should be uneventful. The way Dara Quigley was treated last month, heartbreakingly, is a testament to all of the above.

So why has this been facilitated for so long? How did the idea of service, honesty, accountability, respect, professionalism and empathy become so alien to a force that ostensibly exists to serve its people and to protect them?

A big part of the reason I found the desire to write stems from reading some of Dara’s wonderful pieces. Her flair, her turn of phrase, her capability to articulate anger so perfectly on the page, taught me that you don’t need to have a pristine background or a hoard of qualifications to speak out. And when it came to speaking out on matters so important to so many, no-one did it better.

If there weren’t a million-and-one other perfectly good reasons to expose corruption, question authority, and particularly, highlight just how FUCKED UP our apparent protectors are, do it for Dara.

Not a hero. Not a martyr. One of us.

Featured image source