Last month the early departure of another Garda Commissioner drew much media attention – probably more than it deserved, given that the wheels keep turning, the Gardaí still show up for work, and the ship of state creaks on. The change, if any, will be largely cosmetic. But the week before the Commissioner “retired”, a man was shot by a garda in Dublin city. The garda was off-duty. The man was unarmed.
This came in the wake of revelations that have seriously damaged the credibility of An Garda Síochána, from the conspiracy to smear whistleblower Maurice McCabe, to the penalty-points fiasco, to doctored drink-driving stats. But there were no signs of concern in our media about the shooting of an unarmed man. Our journalists, instead of querying the chain of events that led to an unarmed man being shot by an offduty garda, swallowed and regurgitated the Garda line without question. The victim of this shooting was smeared as “known to gardaí” before any inquiry, let alone court case. Due process, but not for the working classes m’lud.
The Sun asserted the victim was a “close associate of well-known gangster”. Of course, no source was cited for this information. Crime reporting still operates to a standard of citation that would not be acceptable in an undergraduate essay. One can only assume this information came from the Garda, but are they to be trusted? Forgetting the recent scandals that led to the “resignation” of the previous Commissioner, and calls for the current Commissioner to step down also, there are other serious questions about credibility. The Judge in the Jobstown trial, for instance, had to instruct the jury to disregard all Garda evidence. This is all well-known and on the public record, and should counsel caution when it comes to trusting versions of events put forward by our police force. In the case of a shooting, it is folly to accept without question an account that comes solely from the person doing the shooting. This is elementary, self-evident. There is far too much motivation to paint a picture that exonerates them. And unsurprisingly that is the picture that has been painted.
Worse, this is the second time in just over a year this has happened. Last summer an unarmed man was shot in the face. This was similarly reported as an “accident”, before any inquiry, and without the remotest semblance of investigative reporting, or even critical thinking on behalf of our journalists. That very day, RTÉ News reported the victim of that shooting was a suspect in a spate of burglaries. This is not some tabloid, this is the national broadcaster. Similar stories were published in a other media. How did they know this to be true? Why do they feel justified in applying uniquely low probative standards? They didn’t say but one can assume they heard it from the Garda, the same organisation whose member carried out the shooting.
So, before any inquiry the shooter was exonerated (it was “accidental”) and before any court case the victim was implicated (“known to gardaí”). Despite the fact An Garda Síochána are supposedly being subjected to an ever increasing level of scrutiny by politicians and media both, precisely the same events had played out again. The message this sends is that gardaí can shoot young men without any criticism from our press.
Our media remain beholden to the Garda in a sort of dysfunctional symbiotic relationship. Gardaí continue to give them stories at individual discretion, which risks leaving journalists in thrall to a police force that has, we know, been compromised by scandal after scandal, many relating to honesty and veracity. The feudal bestowing of stories on favoured journalists makes a mockery of the concept of independent journalism. It is disgraceful that this situation persists given the ongoing revelations about An Garda Síochaná.
No better is the near-silence of the liberal commentariat on this issue. Those who paid easy and empty lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement couldn’t seem to care less when the poor people getting shot are from closer to home. Class remains one of the biggest predictors of life outcomes in this country. More people die of economic inferiority in this country every year than died in 30 years of the Troubles. Even when our police force are shooting unarmed men, Irish liberals side with the establishment, in untypical silence. This “must have deserved it” mentality is a mirror image of the prejudice which allows innocent black men to be killed in their droves in America. In Ireland, those who shout loudest for equality for races, genders and sexualities are hypocritically squeamish about…class.