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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
Column My father was a Garda - I've seen what they have to go through.
Fears for his safety, holidays without him, and the constant worry that he wouldn’t come home: Aisling O’Donnell writes about her father, the Garda.

I AM THE daughter of a retired Garda. This is something that I have no problem in saying now.

When I was younger and didn’t get it, I was never the first in line to explain what my dad did for a living because people could be unkind and often didn’t seem to get what it takes to be someone who does that job.  Nobody could understand unless they had a family member in the emergency services.

There were some holidays spent without him.  Being told to turn on the news on Christmas Day to see a riot van being assailed by petrol bombs was not the height of fame which he ever intended to reach. There were many times where he was out on nights and my mam lay in the bed without him, hoping that he would be alright while she waited for the back door to slam at 6am, signalling he was back.  The comforting sound of size 11 steel-capped boots trying to tip-toe down the hall for fear of waking four young children let me know that he was ok.

I grew accustomed to seeing my dad in his uniform all the time: watching the racing on Channel 4, eating his dinner, reading the paper. The jeep would be parked in our driveway and if I had a friend over, I’d have to explain that nobody in the family was a convicted criminal offender, about to be arrested. I would be dropped to school in it; I never gave much thought to what happened with the uniform and the jeep when I wasn’t around. What work my father did, how much he achieved in a week.

“Everything sprang into action”

One of the most prominent memories I have of my dad while he was a Garda is also one of the times I was most proud of him. I was at in the kitchen after school, sitting at the table eating when he came in the door, sat down and stared into space. I asked what was up and he said he couldn’t speak for a few minutes.

He was working in west Dublin at the time and was on the M50 when he saw a young man standing on the barrier above the motorway about to jump. My dad slowed down and got out. He tried to speak to the guy but he just wasn’t listening; his speech was slurred and he appeared to be under the influence of something. Dad tried to keep his attention, inching slowly towards the precipice, toward this man who felt like he had nothing to live for.

Cars were whizzing past. One motorist stopped and got out as the guy stood faltering back and forth on the edge of his life. Dad was one foot away when the guy jumped. Everything sprang into action. Lunging forward with everything he had, my dad grabbed the collar of the man’s coat, hanging over the safety rail with a 16 stone sack of dead weight in his arms. The passing motorist then grabbed on to my dad, and like a great big chain, began to tow this young man back to earth. The ambulance was there within minutes. They thanked my dad and he just got in his car and drove home to me.

“They put up with a lot of shit from a lot of sources”

This week was a sad one for the Gardaí and for the Irish public. Detective Garda Adrian Donohue was shot and killed while on duty in County Louth. Several thousand people attended the funeral – including my father. Det Garda Donohoe’s wife and brother were both Gardaí, and the network of support was evident as the sea of blue uniforms showed their colours through the light rain which accompanied one of the saddest days for the force.

A lot of people have a lot of different opinions about the Gardaí. They’re all corrupt, they are lazy, they look out for their own, they’re paid too much. I can honestly say that absolutely none of these opinions are in any aspect true for me. From what I see these people are not paid enough: for the most part they are honest, kind, decent, hard-working individuals, and they put up with a lot of shit from a lot of sources. They are trying to deal with it as best as they can.

Every department of the force is working for you from Community Police to the Special Detective Unit, and I find that people are so quick to have a go without recognising the immense good carried out every day by respectable, modest, diligent, compassionate Gardaí like Adrian Donohue. It would just be nice once in a while to realise how good you have it, when you have it. So if you see a Garda this week, standing out in the rain doing checks or even standing in the queue at the bank, have a little think about this and spare a thought for the majority of the men and women who are trying their best at something so important.

Aisling O’Donnell is a 28 year old journalism graduate.

Aisling O'Donnell