THE CURRENT CYCLE of gangland killings has brought the policing of Dublin into focus.
There was a very heavy garda presence at David Byrne’s funeral on Monday. The scenes in Dublin’s Thomas Street were reminiscent of the high profile funerals of top ranking republican paramilitaries at the height of the Troubles.
Like the RUC in Northern Ireland, the Garda Dublin Metropolitan Region had to deploy significant local and regional assets to police the event. There were armed – and masked – members from the Emergency Response Unit and Regional Support Units along with ordinary uniformed gardai, traffic units and public order personnel on standby.
Criticism of garda security at gangland funerals
Some critics of the garda operation – most notably John McManus of the Irish Times – complained that the police presence appeared to give David Byrne’s final journey the status of a state funeral.
Leaving aside the optics of such a large garda presence, at the taxpayer’s expense, the police operation was essential.
Unfortunately, Ireland has provided the international security and intelligence community with text-book examples of apocalyptic violence at heavily attended and emotionally charged funeral services.
On 16 March 1988, Loyalist murderer Michael Stone mounted a gun and grenade attack on a large group of mourners at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast killing three and wounding dozens. Three days later, at the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, a large crowd surrounded a car carrying two British Army Corporals, David Howes and Derek Wood.
Howes and Wood were beaten, stripped to their underwear and executed by gunshot in broad daylight. Both events were filmed by TV cameras and security surveillance systems. The graphic and violent scenes from both incidents were broadcast internationally and remain emblematic and powerful images of the brutality of the Troubles.
Tit-for-tat killings similar to sectarian violence
I am not comparing David Byrne and Eddie Hutch to either loyalist or republican paramilitaries who were participants in the Troubles. However, the cycle of tit-for-tat killings that characterised much of the sectarian violence of that conflict matches the characteristics of the current spate of revenge killings perpetrated by Dublin’s criminal gangs.
It is therefore essential that there be a strong police presence at the funeral of Eddie Hutch today. From a logistical and planning perspective, today’s funeral is relatively straightforward. The funeral service itself takes place in Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Sean Mc Dermott Street followed by the burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.
The distances involved for removal and funeral cortege are relatively short.
Security along the route will be similar to Monday’s funeral. There will also be support from the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams to counter the risk posed by improvised explosive devices or hoax threats. After the funeral, considerable resources will be devoted to ensuring that there are no other attacks, provocations or incidents at locations where the family and friends of the deceased will gather to mourn his loss.
Risk of another revenge killing
The risk of another revenge killing will rise exponentially during today and over the coming weeks as both gangs emerge from the public mourning process.
The precious garda resources mobilised to tackle this threat are being drawn from an already over-stretched force. In the aftermath of the Regency Hotel shooting and the subsequent murder of Eddie Hutch, both of the garda representative organisations, the GRA and the AGSI stated that the force lacked sufficient resources to deal effectively with Dublin’s drug gangs and the violent gun crime associated with them.
This was denied by Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald who promised that ‘the gardaí will have every resource that they need … and the type of saturation policing that we need to see’.
She also promised to create a ‘permanent armed response unit in the Dublin area’.
Unfortunately however, due to chronic under-investment in our policing service, the Commissioner, Noreen O’Sullivan was forced to withdraw the Garda Emergency Response Unit from the Louth Division in order to shore up security in Dublin. The ERU was originally deployed to the border county after the deficiencies identified there in the aftermath of the murders – by armed criminals – of Garda Adrian Donohoe and Garda Anthony Golden.
Years of cuts
Garda representative groups have been consistent in their warnings for a number of years now of the erosion of capacity and morale within the force by cuts to personnel, training and equipment arising from the government’s austerity policies.
Cuts to the pay of gardaí mean that new members are paid as little as €23,000 per annum. In the past, gardaí, like my father, were able to buy a family home and educate their children on a garda salary.
Today’s young gardaí cannot hope to meet these simple aspirations and many cannot afford to live in the communities they police.
The confidence of the public in the force has also been shaken by a plethora of reports and enquiries such as the Garda Inspectorate’s Report and the Guerin Report that highlight a force whose leadership is exposed to political interference and which requires the type of independence from politics and independent oversight that would be considered best practice in other EU countries.
This fractured trust has not been helped by the resignation of the previous Commissioner and the former Minister for Justice.
The chronic shortage of resources has been exacerbated by politically motivated decisions, such as the mass mobilization of scarce resources to police anti-water protests.
Monitoring water protests leaves units struggling
One Assistant Commissioner admitted last year that the deployment of personnel and expertise to the monitoring of water protests had left garda drugs units ‘struggling’.
Minister Fitzgerald has promised €5 million to counter the threat posed by drugs and gun crime in Dublin. It is a paltry sum and will not fund the proper policing of a city the size of Dublin with a population of over one million citizens.
The drug gangs and associated gun violence are merely a symptom of a policing environment which has become hollowed out and reactive. There is a requirement for significant investment in an Garda Siochana to reinvigorate their relationship with Irish citizens.
Dublin cannot be policed at gunpoint. The sight of masked and armed gardaí on our streets is a sure sign that the proverbial horse of unfettered drug crime in our disadvantaged communities has well and truly bolted. Francis Fitzgerald enjoys great privilege as Minister for Justice. She and her cabinet colleagues need to be mindful that they are also fully responsible for our policing debacle.
Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.