I grew up around guards. I was born just two doors down from the barracks so my childhood friends were invariably the kids of guards. Peeler’s brats as they were colloquially known back in the day. They were my mates with whom I navigated childhood.
Hanging around with Peeler’s brats, I got privileges by association. The Peeler’s brats never got a slap, because of who their parents were; those who hung around with them weren’t always so lucky.
Many is the slap I got on their behalf when on my own. Many is the kick in the arse I got accompanied by the message to ‘pass this on to the coppers’ son.’ And sure it didn’t do me any harm. I was collateral damage. Guilt by association. The things you do for friendship.
Back then, a guard was one of the most respected members of the community. In fact so loved were they, that mysterious sacks of spuds and turf used to often arrive at the station doors, as if by magic. And we’d help them unload these magical spuds and sods.
I remember too that the station cell had a long ventilation chamber window through the wall, about six inches off the ground through which we earned handy pocket money going for fags for prisoners sleeping it off, smuggling them in Baby Powers, Sweet Aftons and packets of Perri crisps, as long as we were allowed to keep the change. Even then, we needed a percentage.
Because the barracks was part of our virtual playground, we’d be innocent onlookers as people were picked up and brought in, back in the day when local crime all seemed to be minor and which seemed to be dispensed fairly quickly without a need for solicitors or reading the rights.
Young lads were brought in after a raid or a broken window or a fight, there’d be a few slaps and things got solved. It was an era when helping gardai with their enquiries was expedited by the ‘root in the hole’ sort of justice.
Back then, we never messed with the guards, because we saw at first hand what happened when you were a cheeky pup or gave them backchat. It almost made us give up stealing apples from local orchards.
But seriously, everyone needs to have community figures to whom you are beholden in some way for your safety in return for your respect and co-operation. Back then, you felt that the guard could solve anything. And, spuds and turf aside, was beyond reproach.
This week however, the damage that has been caused to the public confidence in the Garda Siochana has been growing day by day.
The inexplicable revelations regarding the breath tests, the fixed penalty points notices, and the mysterious case of the Templemore entertainment fund have done nothing to help the public have confidence in the force. And this is wrong, because we need to have a force that, while not perfect, is always seen as decent and upstanding.
There are many questions to be answered, questions that go far beyond just seeking the head of the Commissioner. And hopefully, all of these will be answered in the hours and days ahead.
It is going to be hard to explain away an excess of a million breath tests. Or to placate the onslaught of claims that will come forth from people who will feel they were wrongfully convicted, or unfairly penalized by the courts and by their insurance companies. This one is going to run and run.
I often write here of the need for us to have robust guardians or safety, health, and justice and in this, the gardai play perhaps the most regular role. Being a garda is not an easy job, no matter what the cynics might say.
Every night, members of the force are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our community from itself, to babysit drunken teenagers, to take on beefed-up heroes who are angling for a fight. Unarmed they put themselves in the way of danger by going into domestic situations which are often hard to defuse, and which as we saw in Louth a while back, can often end in tragedy.
However, this does not mean that they can step outside the guidelines we expect them to operate within. It is for the good of us all that we examine what went wrong to cause these aberrations.