Under normal circumstances one would think that having fifty Gardaí lined up to testify against you would be a public demonstration by the prosecution of the strength of their case.
But the trial of the Jobstown protesters is not normal circumstances and the particular juncture in which the Gardaí will be giving their evidence is likewise far from normal.
We know what individual members of the force are capable of from the point of view of falsifying evidence and going so far as to frame one of their own as seen in the Sergeant Maurice McCabe case. More than that the organisation as a whole, from the very top, is capable of directing institutional wrongdoing. What other explanation could there be for the scale and breadth of the falsifying of statistics of all manner of crimes including homicide but also almost a million breath tests?
The stock of the Gardaí as an organisation has plummeted in the eyes of wide sections of the society in recent years. It is not the case that the organisation has fundamentally changed for the worse. As far back as the 1970s the notorious ‘heavy gang’, were relied upon to torture and beat confessions out of republican activists.
Republican activists were relatively isolated in Irish society at that point in time and the widespread revulsion at the campaign of the Provisional IRA fed a tolerance of extreme and illegal repressive measures by the Gardaí.
In the 1980s Garda conduct in the Kerry Babies case and the infamous Derek Fairbrother beating which was raised in the Dáil be none other than the then Labour leader Dick Spring were still commonly viewed as exceptional aberrations in an otherwise upstanding force.
It took the McBrearty case in Donegal from which the Morris Tribunal ensued where a father and son were the subject of persistent harassment by the force up to and including the planting of evidence and framing Frank McBrearty Senior for the death of Richie Barron to give us our first real insight that corruption could go beyond individual handfuls of Gardaí and span a whole district.
Since the turn of the millennium the greater availability of video camera devices, independent news sources such as Indymedia and subsequently social media has fostered a common understanding of the repressive role of the police the world over when it comes to protest movements.
Two prominent examples in this country include the Reclaim the Streets demonstration in 2002 which was savagely battoned off the road by Gardaí, some of whom removed their shoulder numbers to avoid detection as well as the brutal policing of the Shell to Sea Protest movement in Mayo.
However the water charges protest movement has brought people’s understanding of the political role of policing to a new level. Here we witnessed sizeable daily Garda mobilisations into estates both low and middle income in order to repress the spontaneous grassroots community based campaigns to prevent water meter installation. Here it became clear to thousands more people who up to that point gave the Gardaí the benefit of the doubt that from the point of view of the state, the allocation of Garda resources for policing austerity trumps that of policing crime.
This realisation coincides with the recent revelations by whistleblowers and their victimisation alongside the falsification of crime statistics. It is our hope that a jury representative of wider society that knows what the Gardaí are capable of as described above do not view Gardaí testifying as dispassionate witnesses in the Jobstown case. They are representing an organisation that clashed time and again with the water charges movement.
The fifty Garda witnesses and their superiors have a stake in the conviction of the Jobstown protesters. The last thing they want is an emboldened working class which has just come through a successful campaign of civil disobedience against the water charges to go on to fight with confidence other issues from housing, repeal the eighth and industrial struggles on the basis of effective, militant, peaceful by not necessarily legal tactics including occupations, solidarity pickets outside of the terms of the Industrial Relations Act and flagrant open use of the safe abortion pill.
They desperately want a conviction that they hope will induce a general chilling effect upon people. We hope the jury take on board this very background political context and treat the testimony of the fifty Gardaí with the appropriate scepticism.