|Peter Russell facial injuries|
Moreover, Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan is in a somewhat beleaguered position as criticism of the force’s internal culture on her watch is mounting. Swirling around the by now quite voluble public discourse are allegations of intimidation, bullying and smearing against those within the force who seek to bring to public attention some of An Garda’s more egregious behaviour. TD Mick Wallace views the situation as one of An Garda immersion in a state of turmoil.
There is a split in it with two camps. The Garda Commissioner has promoted a ring around her. It is corrosive. She is doing so much damage to An Garda Síochána that there are many good gardaí shocked at how she is operating. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality cannot leave her in position.
|Peter Russell head injury|
Yet if Peter Russell is being scrupulously honest in the narrative he puts forward, it seems that there is even more reason for public concern that elements of a force might operate with impunity, feeling they are beyond account and that there is an anti-whistleblowing regimen in place, buttressed from the top down, which protects grievous wrongdoing and punishes those who expose it.
Few doubt that that An Garda Síochána is a force that performs a necessary societal function for very poor rates of pay in deleterious working conditions. Gardai are said to be sleeping in their own cars at night in the capital because of the shift patterns which do not allow them time to make the often long journey home but who are unable to afford the price of a hotel or B&B. At the same time society pays the Garda wages and if it is to support a justified increase it will hardly be as payment for the type of service Peter Russell claims was provided to him.
According to Peter Russell the background to his story is that for the previous two years his teenage son, still only 16, has been singled out for harassment by a local Garda. “Picked on” is the language he used to describe what has been happening to his son.
|Peter Russell leg injuries|
The son in question had earlier taken a case against a member of the force to the Garda ombudsman. One afternoon, accompanied by his friend, the teenager got into a car parked in the main street. An off duty garda allegedly approached them and made reference to the ombudsman case. He went as far as to threaten the boy, calling him a “little bastard” and telling him if he ever took another case against any garda he would have his legs broken. He further warned him that if he ever apprehended him on the road while driving he would make his life hell.
Peter describes what happened to himself a couple of weeks back:
I was coming out of the local chipper and the Garda who threatened my son approached me and asked was it not time that I had my teeth fixed. He tried to provoke me with reference to an incident when I got a kicking from the Galway Gardai, goading me that I was not such a big man then when after an arrest Gardai had broken my teeth and cracked my ribs. I told him to stop hassling me and to stay away from my family.
|Peter Russell eye injuries|
Last Thursday night Peter alleges that the Gardai revisited the incident on the road at Loughglinn, a village on the R325 situated between Castlerea and Ballaghaderreen:
I was dropping a lad home who had been helping me do a bit of work. An unmarked garda car came up behind us, blue lights flashing. So I stopped the van. A uniformed garda told me to get out and open the back door of the vehicle. I did as he asked. Just as I was turning around one of them in plain clothes hit me with baton across the face. I shouted, “what the fuck are you doing?” He hit me again. When I put my arm up to protect my face he then hit me on the arm. I was hit three more times on my legs as I fell to ground. He said “you don’t make threats to the gardai” and named a local garda whom he was alleging I had threatened.
Peter Russell, a former native of Carrickmore, County Tyrone, claimed he was then forcefully told, "Northern cunts like you are not wanted here” and further warned that "if I didn’t 'watch' myself, next time they would do me right." In all, he contends, there were three Garda present at the scene of the incident he has outlined, two in uniform who stood back and one in plain clothes “who give me the kicking.”
As they were going he told me to stay clear of a particular garda and warned me not to get children to be taking photographs of the same Garda. That was a reference to my daughter who had snapped the Garda in question while he was talking to my ex-wife and then sent it to my son. It is what kids do.
Peter Russell attended the casualty department of Castlebar Hospital, about 40 kilometres from the incident, with his injuries. His eyebrow was glued back into place, while he complains of still experiencing pain in his head, arm and legs. The co-passenger in the van at the time of the incident has assured Mr Russell that he will be confirming the above account to a legal team currently taking up the case.
Mr Russell says he has been having ongoing problems with the Gardai for around six years now but nothing as serious as this and that given the ferocity of the attack he fears for his safety. He is open about his court appearances and prosecutions but insists that on every occasion he has been acquitted. Having consulted with and briefed his legal team he is determined to press his grievance to the highest authority possible.
If Peter Russell’s account is factual and error-free, then it is imperative that the matter is brought into the public domain and that this society's political class addresses the problem of police brutality. The photos of his injuries, had they been snapped in Ferguson, would be flashing across our news screens and front page print media as evidence of a violent state agency, dangerously outside democratic control, exercising contempt for its citizens.
The function of the police in society is to shield citizens from harm not to be the spear by which harm is thrust into them. Nobody, whether they are known to the Garda or not, should be accosted by the police in such fashion. Any police force should be employed only as a law enforcing agency not a law unto themselves. An Garda Síochána cannot be the exception.
|November 2010 student protest calling for an end to Garda brutality|