Crime does not only dwell on the streets

All gardaí who have died in the line of duty never knew what the next call-out would bring, writes Caroline O’Doherty
Crime does not only dwell on the streets
Garda Tony Golden

AFTER the horror in Omeath on Sunday night, the Garda Roll of Honour now runs to 88 names, almost one death a year in the 93 years of the history of the force.

Twenty-eight, including Tony Golden’s divisional colleague Adrian Donohoe, died at the hands of gunmen; four in explosions, three in drownings, one in a hatchet attack, one in a fireball, one in another violent assault.

Ten were on foot patrol, mown down deliberately or by tragic accident. Thirty-seven more were in cars or on motorbikes, responding to emergencies, attempting to stop suspects, escorting detainees, or simply out on the beat on country roads, on dark nights, or in unforgiving weather.

In some cases the collisions were unintended; in other cases the members were targeted and rammed; in a few, their cars were hit by or swerved to avoid gunfire and ran off the road.

One was struck by a train while trying to apprehend a suspect and two died in accidental shootings amid exchange of gunfire in pursuit of armed criminals.

Some worked against a backdrop of political violence; some among ordinary depraved criminals; others amid the chaotic lives of marginalised young men with nothing to live for but the thrill of a chase or fight.

Some had spent decades on the force, one was in uniform just a matter of months. All had the shared experience of never knowing what the next call-out, phone call, or encounter would bring.

It is because of that inherent uncertainty in the duties of a garda that many of the questions surrounding Tony Golden’s death have, in these early days at least, unsatisfactory answers.

Garda Tony Golden
Garda Tony Golden

Why did he go to the house alone? Should he not have been armed? Would body armour have helped? How come his killer was out on bail? Where did his killer get a gun? What more could have been done to prevent his death?

Answers come down to a blend, or conflict, of money, manpower, protocol, personal judgment— and chance.

Chances were Adrian Crevan Mackin would have been long gone from the house once he knew his partner had made a formal complaint to the gardaí.

He had only to go two miles up the road to be over the border, in his home territory — and a separate police jurisdiction — far enough for complaints not to bother him, close enough to keep being a menace if he wanted.

Chances were, if he had stayed in the house, he would have enjoyed seeing the fear on his partner’s face as she came to collect her belongings and revelled in his triumph that it was she who had to retreat to her parents.

Chances were, it would have been enough for him to sit and smirk and remind her that she always came back.

And yet time and again, those who work in the domestic violence field warn that the most dangerous time for a woman living with an abuser is when she tries to leave him.

Should it not follow that anyone who tries to assist her should also presume to be in danger?

A year ago, the Garda Inspectorate issued a damning report containing severe criticisms of the way domestic violence was handled, with victims often considered a nuisance and incidents rarely treated as crimes.

Clearly, Garda Tony Golden believed and acted otherwise. A stand-out example of caring professionalism, he paid the ultimate price for holding the highest of standards.

Garda Tony Golden
Garda Tony Golden

What this means for the way gardaí should approach such situations in future will need examination.

According to Women’s Aid, there were more than 13,500 domestic violence applications to the district court last year but fewer than a third of victims report their abuse to the gardaí and those who do only do so after an average of 35 assaults.

It’s a huge problem, in other words, and for it to be taken as seriously as it deserves means getting serious about Garda resources.

That doesn’t necessarily mean more firepower — bringing a gun to a domestic violence incident can escalate the problem as easily as it might defuse it.

But it does mean investing in Garda manpower, fixing the housing crisis that prevents women leaving abusive relationships earlier and permanently; providing faster, more effective court orders; training more Garda negotiators, and a whole range of other measures that help identify domestic violence, nip it in the bud, separate victim from abuser and support her in that separation and, ideally, rehabilitate the abuser.

Rural crime is now an election issue, white-collar crime is getting ever-more complex, international cybercrime presents new challenges for the force every day, and gangland criminality has never gone away, so the chances of getting domestic violence a prominent place on the agenda seem slim.

But up to the horror in Omeath on Sunday night, the threat to our gardaí seemed to be the uncertainties that lurk on lawless streets. Now it seems the unknowns that lie behind closed doors can exact a similarly terrible toll.

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