In the weeks preceding the visit of Elizabeth Windsor to Dublin in May, it was made quite clear that the Twenty-Six County state would not tolerate any form of political protest.
In fact, anyone expressing any dissenting view from the official line that the commander-in-chief of Britain’s armed forces was welcome was to be regarded as a subversive troublemaker.
It began with the national media’s campaign to inform the Irish people that anyone who had the least objection to Windsor’s state visit was a political dinosaur. We were treated to warnings of doomsday scenarios in which crazed republicans, mad mullahs and members of the flat earth society would burn down or bomb our capital city to the ground. But, lest we panicked, we were assured that An Garda Síochána had a masterful plan to protect the peace from these nihilists intent only on rapine and destruction.
This plan involved the Gardaí instigating a campaign of political repression to a level not previously witnessed in the state for many years. Those who attempted to raise awareness of why Windsor should not be made welcome in Ireland were to be intimidated off the streets.
In the days and weeks before the visit, political activists were followed around Dublin and stopped and questioned on every street. Personal possessions were confiscated, as well as political leaflets, flags and banners. Activists were body searched and photographed.
Despite being shown a council permit, which allowed for the erection of political posters, Gardaí began to rip down the same posters, at first, only at night but, later, in broad daylight.
The Gardaí behaved extremely aggressively; there was plenty of charming comments to political activists such as “Just clear the fuck off home” and “We are going to sort ye out tomorrow [the day of the Windsor’s arrival].” Responses to activists who spoke in Irish included “I don‘t speak Polish” and “Just speak fucking English”. A number of Gardaí would not give their name or number.
It has been remarked that, when needed, the Gardaí are nowhere to be found in certain, invariably working class, communities in Dublin. Therefore, the scene of thousands of Gardaí crowding our streets to squash any political dissent before and during the Windsor visit demands explanation.
The short answer is that the Gardaí, just like police forces the world over, are a political organisation. Their first duty is the protection of the state and the protection of the interests of those who run the state. The promotion of crime-free environments in working class communities is way down the list of obligations, if on the list at all.
The measures taken by the Gardaí over the past weeks is a worrying sign and raises concerns for all citizens in the Twenty-Six Counties who value political freedom. Now Windsor has been and gone, what next might the state declare offensive or a threat to public order? What campaign or opinion might they next attempt to close down or silence?
Now that the Gardaí have discovered that they can suppress civil liberties without any outcry from the public, how far will they push their new found powers?
There has long been an attitude among political activists to simply accept whatever harassment they receive from the Gardaí as ‘just the way things are’. This attitude has got to change.
Republicans and socialists made a clear demonstration during the Windsor visit that the streets do not belong to the Gardaí. They belong to us, the citizens of Ireland. Irish citizens have every right to organise and express their views without harassment. People must become educated on their rights. They must learn to stand calm and firm in the face of state intimidation and to challenge it at every opportunity.
We cannot allow a situation to develop in this country where those in power believe that they will be able to close down any political activity that they wish.