“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” is one of my favourite sayings, and something I try to remember as a political activist. Recently, the Cork Evening Echo published a piece on the Gardaí having an entire team dedicated to monitoring water charges protesters. The fact the article had statements from Gardaí shows it was quite clearly sent directly from Garda HQ as an unofficial press statement – A thinly veiled attempt to say to protesters “We’re watching you”. Of course, anyone involved in any sort of left-wing or working-class politics would be well up to speed on intimidation by the police force. Whether it’s your phone randomly turning off or one too many squad cars passing you on the way home from a protest, it’s par for the course of fighting for progressive causes in Ireland.
Of course, it makes perfect sense and isn’t irrational. The first duty of any police force is to protect the state, next comes secondary priorities like law and order. When there’s any sort of political “instability” or questioning of the status quo the media can’t distract people from, the state uses the police force – The standard carrot and the stick approach. There’ll always be some people, for one cause or another, who’ll be deemed Enemies of the State. Historically, republicans and communists would have been monitored in Ireland with everyday citizens left alone but now the state is targeting anyone who steps even a small bit out of line. What’s worse is their arrogance in even telling us outright they’re doing it, as if to make a point. Whether it’s this in Cork, “Operation Mizen “ in Dublin which is a similar Garda unit for monitoring protests, or the constant Special Branch harassment of political activists exercising a democratic right to free speech, free assembly – Do those terms even matter anymore? – Garda resources are being used very selectively.
Even though there’s a growing drug problem in Cork, with public toilets being used as hubs for drug-taking, with rapists walking around – Not going to even mention the corrupt bankers – The Guards think residents opposing water meters is deserving of round-the-clock surveilance? The fact is the Guards aren’t a neutral entity, they’re there to protect the rich and powerful. The Guards are the first to baton-charge people at protests and rallies, the first to show up to protests openly carrying firearms. Nothing is too low for the forces of the state, whether it’s attacking mourners and brandishing weapons at bereaved relatives at the funeral of Ruairi O’Bradaigh in 2013 or hitting pensioners with batons at the Shell To Sea protests, or the regular harassment of republicans, leftists and now water protesters.
Simple fact is they can’t be reformed. Political policing isn’t a specific type of policing, it’s the most basic type. You can’t sit back and ignore it, the idea of not rocking the boat too much and they’ll leave you alone doesn’t make them back off. Before it was communists, republicans, anarchists and so on, now it’s anyone who posts something anti-government on Facebook – A site which is open in sending info on people to intelligence servces – or attends a demo. Really, it doesn’t matter what you do or think. If you’re a banker or landlord, do what you want, ruin the country and evict people from their homes and you get a free lift to the airport. Come from a working-class background
and you’re fucked, expect crime all around you with no one doing anything about it, but go to a demo and you better watch what you say online.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the protesters, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a protester.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.