9 May 2002 Edition
Vicious attack on young demonstrators
One of the themes for politicians and the media in the election campaign has been the political apathy of young voters. This made it all the more ironic on Monday when young people who have been motivated to become involved in peaceful political struggle were viciously batoned off the streets of Dublin City by gardaí.
The protest was organised by Reclaim the Streets, an anti-capitalist group that aims to return privatised space into the public arena. Witnesses agree that the demonstration, involving around 1,000 mainly young people, was noisy but a festive atmosphere prevailed in what was billed as a street party.
A sit-down protest on Dame Street as the day's events were coming to a close resulted in an unprovoked baton attack by gardaí, who were caught on camera batoning protestors and bystanders alike. At least one garda was photographed not wearing his identifying numbers as he flailed all around him.
This incident was unique in that it took place in the city centre in view of video camera operators and photographers. Bertie Ahern initially tried to ignore the reports of Garda brutality and brush off the issue, but the sheer weight of visual evidence available to the media soon had everyone from the taoiseach to the Garda Commissioner beating a retreat, promising inquiries.
This result at least marks a victory for the Indymedia collective in Ireland. Their website, an example of the power of the Internet in helping to mobilise political activists, features eyewitness accounts and photos of the Garda attack (www.indymedia.ie).
This is not enough, however. Sinn Féin candidate Mary Lou McDonald called on Justice Minister John O'Donoghue to note Sinn Féin's proposals for real accountability of the Gardaí. "The assaults on protesters by Gardaí in Dublin this week are only the latest example of why we need a Garda Ombudsman," she said.
Appointment of Ombudsman would build trust
Also speaking at the lauch of the Sinn Féin proposals on Justice and the Community last Saturday, Dublin West Candidate Mary Lou McDonald said the establishment of a Garda Omudsman was crucial in building greater trust between the force and the community it serves.
"Sinn Féin firmly believes that communities are central to dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour," she said. "These are complex issues and their solution lies with coordinating the work of Gardaí and local communities. It involves identifying areas of need and directing resources into these areas.
"This party will continue to work to foster greater cooperation between An Gardaí Siochána and the communities we represent. There is no alternative to such an approach.
"There is direct correlation between social disadvantage and certain forms of anti-social behaviour. However, the vast majority of people in disadvantaged areas are decent, hard working people who want a civic accountable policing service. Recognising this, Sinn Féin proposes:
- Working with communities to identify their needs and provide the resources required to meet their needs.
- The institution of restorative justice schemes which give the victim, offender and the community a say in the treatment of offenders.
- The formation of Community Policing Boards with representation from An Garda Siochána and from the communities they serve to formulate policies suited to both.
"It is also imperative that there is transparency and trust between the Gardaí and local communities. In this regard Sinn Féin proposes:
- The establishment of a Garda Ombudsman, independent of the Gardaí with the powers to initiate independent investigations.
- Mandatory use of videotaping of interviews with suspects.
- Appointments to senior Gardaí positions to be dealt with by an independent board and not by political appointment.
- Human Rights training for all Gardaí.
"We are conscious that any crime or justice policy must have the needs of victims central to its implementation. Our manifesto calls for:
- The creation of a victim support unit working within the Department of Justice to co-ordinate the provision of services to victims of crime.
- For serious crimes involving violence, and especially in sexual assault cases, victims should be entitled to legal representation at a trial.
"This party is committed to building a peaceful society. Our manifesto clearly outlines the basic measures that are required to start to make that goal a reality."