Beginning it all at the age of 16 years, wearing a camel duffle coat, with a pencil and jotter in the right hand pocket, and able to write shorthand at 120 words a minute, I worked as a common or garden reporter in every county of Ireland for the past 50 years.

I have resided in all four provinces at different stages of my life; slept for at least one night in about every town, filed stories for a long list of newspapers and magazines, earned my bread by the sweat of my alphabet.

I know our country at least as well as the next man. And there, again, is the pure truth.

It is against this experience in this week when the Garda Síochána organisation, from the commissioner level down, is being brutally batoned by public opinion, in a situation getting hotter by the day, that I have to state clearly here and now that I have immense sympathy for the members of a decent and honourable force with which I have had thousands of working contacts down the years.

In all those contacts, I have encountered only two members whose behaviour was negative. 

And those two sergeants, in the West and in South Ulster, probably had a valid enough excuse for the way they treated me, when I sought their help in the course of my work.

That excuse was that I was then blackly bearded and long haired and, from their experience, they almost certainly had good reason to be wary of clients that looked like me. The truth, yet again.

Neither man was corrupt in any way. 

I would describe them as being maybe thick. 

And their behaviour was totally at odds with that of the thousands of gardaí who were always as helpful as they could be to hacks like myself working rural Ireland. 

These men in the small stations up and down the country were as different to the gun-bearing RUC policemen of my childhood as chalk is to Calvita (I was born and raised on the other side of the Border).

If you are living in a country parish in 2016 which is still covered by a manned Garda station down the road, rather than by remotely controlled patrol cars, I would argue that you should consider yourself very fortunate.

In an era when so many of the smaller stations have been closed down for allegedly economic reasons, the cost to the countryside has been far higher than is ever fully quantified by anybody.

What was lost to the community was far more than just a locally based policing operation. And that is for sure.

If it was a typical Sergeant-And-Two station, there was, and is, far more involved than the law. 

I am aware of many cases over the years where, for example, the children of the local gardaí made all the difference between a local school being closed down or a two-teacher school having sufficient numbers on the roll book to retain the second teacher.

The gardaí who were resident were also normally heavily involved in their communities, in many positive ways.

The GAA club often reaped the benefits of a good new midfielder in a bleak championship year. 

I once covered a club game where the local sergeant (and his good wife of course) had provided no less than four of the forwards who won the game for the parish.

The benefits spread right across the communities. Local shops had extra customers.

Voluntary organisations had extra energetic leaders. 

The policeman was always a policeman, of course, so young bloods that were likely to go astray further down the road of life were spotted early and given discreet warnings which normally worked, and kept them out of the courts. 

When major incidents occurred in the local jurisdiction the local gardaí, known by the people of the parish, were always kept well clued in. 

Speeding cars don’t pick up that kind of local knowledge, and the countryside is much the poorer for that.

The crime statistics prove that, every week.

I knew several of the veterans long ago who, because they had served their country well in their youth, were allowed to serve past the normal retiring age.

The country folk said they had the Miraculous Medal! Like those that came after them, those decent men might not have had the pure academic qualifications of the modern gardaí, but they were blessed with an amalgam of commonsense and compassion and understanding, which served both them and their communities perfectly.

If I have any small query about the quality of those that serve us today, it is perhaps that higher Templemore qualifications maybe erode that fundamental commonsense just a bit. But we live in a different Ireland now. 

The work of our police force has become infinitely more dangerous and challenging.

The Dublin inner-city gangster war underscores that reality. I met the legendary “Lugs” Brannigan who controlled the streets of Dublin many years ago, and I think that formidable old garda warrior would probably have that mess sorted out by now, had it happened in his day. 

But then he would have been accused of infringing the civil rights of thugs, I suppose, if he had operated in his very positive and direct way.

Finally, in a nutshell, I am trying to serve today as a kind of whistleblower to let gardaí, especially those working in rural areas, be aware that not everyone supports the ongoing reductive campaign against them.


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