July 2017        

Jobstown: A vindication of protest and activism

Graham Skehan

As we receive the verdict that the six accused in the Jobstown case have been fully acquitted, it is time to examine the role of the Gardaí in the policing of left-wing politics.
     I mean “policing” in two senses here: the first, a literal sense—dawn raids, brutality on marches, etc.—but also in a more figurative sense, delineating the terms of what kind of politics is acceptable in Ireland.
     Policing organisations have a shady history internationally, with the American footballer Colin Kaepernick recently castigated by reactionary forces for his astute observation that the US police force has its origins in slave-catching patrols.
     Our own force’s history can be neatly summed up in the fact that the barrack square at Templemore is named after Eoin O’Duffy, the fascist fantasist and Blueshirt paterfamilias—and second commissioner of the force.
     So then, what of the role of the Garda Síochána in policing the terms of debate? This happens in two modes, the first through actual or threat of violence. If you look at how student protests in the immediate aftermath of the credit crunch were policed, violence was normal and instigated by police actors. This has a two-pronged effect: the first to dissuade people from participating in this form of democratic street protest by making it dangerous to do so, and secondly by creating a propaganda effect, where violence is blamed on protesters in an attempt to delegitimise their message. This was especially evident in Rossport, where Garda violence was the norm, but it was also used as an excuse to ignore the “crazy” activists, who had “brought it on themselves.”
     Then there is the police infiltration of left-wing groups. The “Spy Cops” saga—which has still not come to an end—saw the British police deceive activists (including Irish activists in our sovereign republic) into sexual relationships in the interests of intelligence-gathering. That is rape, and it is indefensible. But that is only the most extreme example.
     After SYRIZA’s win in Greece, and in the warm afterglow where most of the Irish left still believed they were anything other than opportunists, there was a public meeting in East Wall with Greek activists. The Special Branch were at hand to take the names of those attending. Again, this is about policing the possible. Even the potential of a radical politics in Greece was seen as “subversive”—and such a thing migrating over here was a threat, to be policed.
     This is before we get into the long history of police infiltration of the Irish left, the internment of left activists or anyone with ties to the republican movement, and the litany of sins of the Irish establishment against the left. Jim Gralton being deported from his own country for his politics is perhaps the most egregious example, but there have been many more Graltons, who have had to leave their home towns, were denied work, or were subject to police harassment. Irish anti-leftism might never have reached a McCarthyite level, but it was at least as insidious and pernicious.
     Such a thing has not gone away. Merely look at Clare Daly TD being stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol and this information being leaked to the media instantly, and with record numbers of gardaí accessing the PULSE system to rubberneck. That she was found not guilty is immaterial (a trend I will return to later).
     But such open hostility is not limited to the Gardaí. When a bench warrant was issued for Deputy Daly over a speeding ticket, it shows the open disdain among the judiciary for “troublemakers.” When you live or die by upholding the rule of state power, it is inevitable that an attack on that power becomes an attack on you.
     And that is the important point to make. We must be wary of falling into conspiratorial nonsense.
     All the points raised so far have been factual, brought together only by their common thread: being anti-left. From here on it will be a bit more speculative; but I’m not suggesting that any one person is orchestrating a particular targeted campaign against the left, or that any of these events are being ordered by any group. But all these individual acts of anti-leftism add up to give a picture of a whole.
     The point I am trying to make is that the culture and the make-up of the establishment institutions necessarily tend towards attacking left activists. There is no conspiracy needed: it is a natural result of their history and structures. We are subject to the whims of the ideological state apparatus, and we should always remember that. In defending themselves, and acting in their own self-interests, those self-interests align to kick the left.
     So, in the case of Jobstown, what can we learn? It is perhaps the most illuminating case with regard to the Irish establishment’s innate anti-leftism that we could hope for. My own opinion, though I am open to being proved wrong on this, is that all the different elements in this case—political parties, media, legal establishment, and Gardaí—operated independently, by which I mean there was no overt collusion between forces. As I said above, it was merely a happy coincidence that all the instances of politically motivated attacks against their perceived enemies dovetailed so nicely into attacking the working-class movement.
     Firstly, the political parties: they all have an innate interest in keeping politics solidly within the Oireachtas; any challenge to that monopoly on power is a threat. So the flexing of left muscle over the water charges is something that they felt must be dealt with. This is why the discipline was so forthcoming over Jobstown.
     Most pointed was Willie O’Dea in the aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict, speaking to the Irish Daily Mail about the decision not to basically criminalise protest: “It would create apprehension in any politician who in future would be a member of a Government that is trying to implement an unpopular policy.” Framing this as if it were a bad thing is a very telling statement.
     Similarly, the media enjoy politics as a Punch and Judy show. Parliamentary sketches, gossip, personality politics—these things enable the ideology of the actions taken by our right-wing polity to be ignored. It is telling that the greatest sin a politician can commit is being rude. It’s all a happy game between pals.
     Coupled with the very particular socio-economic make-up of the Irish media landscape, Jobstown was an affront to the very foundational tenets of the media establishment. It was working-class people (and Paul Murphy) finding a voice and taking power outside where political correspondents can expense their drinks.
     Yes, it was vulgar; yes, it was furious; but if you think that years of grinding austerity was not violence and that someone throwing a water balloon is, then your conception of violence is obscene.
     So then we come to the Gardaí. As I outlined above, there is a spine of anti-leftism that runs through the Gardaí. From their training in how to handle protests to the entire ideology of the force since its inception, and the natural role of all police agents as the enforcers of the state monopoly on violence and the protection of property rights, the gardaí have a particular ideological bent.
     It is for this reason that I don’t believe we should support gardaí in having trade union rights, or support them if they strike for better pay or conditions. The gardaí being lumped in with “workers” is a right-wing conception of labour.
     The labour movement is built on solidarity: an attack on one is an attack on all of us. The Gardaí will be called in to break strikes: they will not strike in solidarity with anyone else; and, furthermore, the ideological make-up of their members precludes class-consciousness.
     It’s no surprise that the police unions in the United States were some of the first to endorse Trump; in Greece the Golden Dawn draws much of its support from the security services; and the Venezuelan opposition lauds fascist vigilantes drawn from former security forces. Through training, and in the natural fulfilment of their stated position, policing and security services act as state agents in the service of capital. And this is all evidenced by the Jobstown trial.
     Why, firstly, was the decision made to pursue a charge of false imprisonment rather than any public-order charge? Is it because having such a judgement against protest would make life a bit easier for gardaí? make violence at marches even easier to get away with? make even more forms of protest easy to discredit? We will never know. But the Gardaí submit the evidence to the DPP’s office, which is no doubt stocked full of ambitious people, looking for a big win. Maybe a route into a handy appointment later, so you don’t want to let the political bigwigs down, they might notice you.
     Couple this with the middle class’s visceral hatred of protesters, the disdain you can feel drip from every broadsheet column or current affairs programme, and you can easily understand how we ended up where we are. The fact that a boy, fifteen years old at the time of the protest, was convicted by a judge shows that the case could have succeeded but for the existence of the jury in this case. That is how complete the ideological blinkers and class hatred are at all levels.
     So to return to the evidence in Jobstown. There is the possibility of a conspiracy within the Gardaí. Some 180 Garda statements were taken on the day, and many are similar, raising similar—false—claims that were then parroted by media and politicians. This is how the operation worked. While there is no direct proof of gardaí colluding to submit similar statements, or the coaching of garda witnesses, this is very similar to how the Hillsborough statements were altered to portray a certain, ideological, picture which was then fed to the press.
     To examine one such claim as an example, the claim that Paul Murphy said into the megaphone, “Will we keep her [Burton] here all night?” This claim was made by three gardaí in evidence at the trial: Superintendent Daniel Flavin, Inspector Derek Maguire, and Sergeant Michael Phelan. All three made extremely similar claims and definitively stated that they heard Murphy utter these words. However, this was conclusively proved not to be true by video evidence presented by the defence.
     How is it possible that three gardaí, of varying ranks, could all have the same false memory? It is very peculiar. And while there is no evidence that these men knowingly gave false evidence, the fact that their testimony differs so sharply from the video recordings does question the credence to be given to Garda evidence in the many thousands of trials every year where there is no such video evidence to counterbalance.
     Because of the innate nature of the Garda Síochána, the anti-leftism that seems rampant, culturally, throughout the force, and the fact that it would be a good strategic move to disrupt the seemingly symbiotic relationship between police, establishment parties, and the media, I believe the CPI should support any call for an inquiry into the Gardaí with regard to Jobstown. There are questions to be answered with regard to the evidence given by gardaí in this case, such as why the false imprisonment charge was selected, and many others.
     But, even more importantly, we must fight back against continuing attempts to criminalise protest and left activism. Josepha Madigan TD (Fine Gael) wants to make commenting on trials on social media a criminal offence. This is clearly as a result of not getting the result she wanted in Jobstown. There is no evidence to suggest that any juror was swayed by a tweet.
     Others have suggested that the rise of social media should mean the end of trial by jury. This follows a pattern of the establishment of the Special Criminal Court, which was founded because of sympathetic jurors not giving the “right” verdict in cases involving republicans, more than any genuine concern over the intimidation of juries or the like.
     That illiberal regime has been expanded now to encompass gangland. The further expansion of serious non-jury trials is something that should be resisted—because history tells us what happens when institutions get to ride roughshod over the left. Juries are not perfect, but, as Jobstown teaches us, they at least give us some possibility of a victory.
     The Jobstown result is a vindication of protest and activism but it also exposes deep fault lines in the Irish state—fault lines that we must attack if we are ever to progress class-consciousness in this country.

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