The Role of the Gardai

The primary role of the police is to preserve the status quo in society. In other words, the first task of the police force, of any police force, is to ensure the rule of the State and the rich elite. In practice this means priority is given to concerns of State over that of the population. For example, in Stoneybatter, near Dublin city-centre, on a number of occasions, the Guards have responded to break-ins over 12 hours after the event. In contrast the Guards were always prompt in attending to the scene of a bin-truck blockade.

The fact that Guards also do useful work, like investigating genuine crimes such as rape or doing traffic control, provides them with a level of cover for the fact that their primary role is to control the population in the interests of the rich. While it would be foolish to dismiss the useful work the police do, it is naive to think that it is the fundamental reason for their existence.

Garda Behaviour

Garda misbehaviour, incompetence and plain subversion of justice happens all too regularly. When you think about the continuous nature of the scandals, you are forced to conclude there is something rotten about the police. Take just a few of the more well-known examples: The Guards investigating the savage murder of two elderly women in Grangegorman framed Dean Lyons, a totally innocent man. They simply forced a confession out of a vulnerable person. It isn't the only case of Gardai faking confessions and setting people up, though perhaps it is the most blatant and tragic - another couple died before the real killer was caught and Dean Lyons suffered under the shame and subsequently died prematurely.

The Gardai in Donegal tried to frame Frank McBearty for murder. Again, they tried to fake a confession and they also severely harassed the man's family by issuing over 200 summonses against family members. It turns out that Gardai there were also faking the discovery of explosives in order to gain credit from their superiors for disrupting the IRA.

The roll call of shame has a long meandering history; from the heavy-gang antics of the 1970s, where policemen helped suspects talk by giving them a good heavy beating, to the Kerry Babies case of the 1980s to the shooting of John Carthy in Abbeylara a couple of years ago.

The Gardai's actual competence as a police force that protects the community is put in perspective when you consider the almost total lack of prosecutions against serial child-abusers, for example in institutions run by religious, in Irish society until the 1990s. It is inconceivable that the Garda didn't know what was going on in wider Irish society in the fifties and sixties, yet they singularly failed to intervene to protect the most vulnerable.

Routine Lies

The routine lies that Guards peddle in the District Court to gain convictions are so common as to be barely worth remarking upon. Rarely acknowledged too are the regular beatings meted out to working class youths. The Department of Justice pays out over E1,000,000 annually in compensation for unlawful arrest, assault and harassment. And that figure represents the tiny minority who have bothered to make complaints that were successful. Many more are intimidated out of doing so; many never bother making a complaint at all.

Very recently we have witnessed the wholesale militarisation of Dublin, with over 4,000 Guards, many dressed in storm-trooper like gear and water-cannon, protecting the European elite. The same absurd level of policing was readily available for George Bush when he graced us with his presence. The sheer level of resources poured into these events illustrate the priorities of the State and the police: the elites take precedence, dealing with joy-riders, drug-dealing and assault is very much a secondary consideration

The Good & the Bad

So there are problems with the Police Force. What else can one expect with a large organisation of over 10,000 members? But the problems with the police force are systemic and arise because it is a police force rather than from the proverbial bad apples. If it were the latter the problems could be rectified, but of course they never are.

In fact it is often mentioned, rightly, that Gardai join the force with the honourable motive of assisting society. Also, many individual Gardai sympathise with the aims of, say, anti-war activists or dislike the bin-tax or many other measures it is their job to enforce. However, it isn't the individual that is the problem, but the institution of the police force itself and its manipulation of the individuals it controls. The institution is a bureaucratic machine which implements the wishes of those in control, i.e. the rich, and the lower echelons follow their orders. The system encourages individual Guards to identify their interests with that of the State and status quo. The individuals in the bureaucracy 'switch off' a part of their individuality when doing their job so that a Guard who is personally anti-war can find herself arresting anti-war activists for actions she probably thinks are justified!

Whose Streets? Our Streets!

The police force is in fact the core function and essence of any State. That is why priority is given to political policing, even at a mundane level. The recent Mayday events in Dublin organised by the Dublin Grassroots Network, were hardly a serious threat to the State. Nevertheless activists were routinely stopped and questioned for the subversive act of leafleting working class neighbourhoods.

The political nature of the police and their function is the reason why they dislike Reclaim the Streets and anarchist tainted events such as the Mayday weekend. We are reclaiming space that the State insists on controlling. An unauthorised RTS or occupation of Fitzwilliam Square is in effect saying to the State: "we will decide for ourselves where to go, we don't need your permission". Such actions also have a wider resonance, a symbolic message of people going out and doing things for themselves; of refusing to obey orders; of questioning the rights and privileges of the rich and the State to control our actions.

And that is why the police often try to have a heavy police presence at our events; all that fluorescent yellow is an attempt to symbolise that they are in control of the streets.

Outside of Popular Control

Anarchists refuse to acknowledge the right of the State to decide what is legitimate and what is not. As mentioned above, the police force is the quintessential face of the State. As such it must be beyond effective community control. If it weren't, the ruling class would find that they no longer had a reliable force to, say, break up pickets of striking workers and suppress opposition. For example, when they were needed last autumn, the police were there at bin-tax pickets getting names for the courts.

People mightn't remain indoctrinated in the lore of capitalism forever, and at the first sign of the throwing off of their 'voluntary submission' and dissent, it is necessary for the capitalist class to have a force capable of containing it.

Talk of the Gardai being unarmed is basically false. They are a police force, not a police request service. If you don't do what they want they will force their will upon you. They and their colleagues in the army, are the only organisation in the country permitted to use force. And they have easy access to firearms if needs be. The fact that they are not an everyday sight is indicative of the ideological success of capitalism rather than a benign policy of the State.


Anarchists want to minimise the use of force in human relations. The basic anarchist thesis is that it is only legitimate in self-defence and must never be under the control of a minority. For that effectively grants power to the minority, who will, as everybody with power does, use it primarily for their own ends and with a view to controlling others. But it is possible to live without recourse to controlling elites and their organised coercion. Anarchists have confidence that people can run their own affairs, particularly in a libertarian socialist society where society is structured to facilitate freedom and justice.

by Dec McCarthy

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This edition is No82 published in September 2004