THAT thousands of people, including more than 2,000 gardaí in uniform, as well as President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, attended the funeral of murdered Garda Tony Golden in Blackrock, Co Louth, yesterday afternoon should not surprise anyone.
Such an expressive, supportive attendance illustrates core values this society cherishes and will not easily make concessions on. The attendance was a statement of clear intent as much as it was an expression of deeply felt and widespread sympathy.
It was above all an indication of solidarity, a solidarity with the police force that through thick and thin, and despite too many undermining scandals and an unshakeable conservatism within the force, serves and protects this society very well.
That we are so very angry and so very shocked by the murder of a garda while on duty — just the second time this has happened this century — recognises that we rely on a largely unarmed police force to resolve the most incendiary situations in our communities and take risks most of us would run from. We expect extraordinary commitment and bravery from ordinary people and that it is given without question is an indication of the values — and the value of — this society. Despite everything, despite hardship, despite hypocrisy and inequity this is a society most of the world’s population would swap their own for.
That, however, will be of little consolation to Garda Golden’s widow Nichola and their three young children, his wider family and his colleagues and friends.
Yesterday’s events were a clear public statement too to those who do not understand why we value deeply the idea of an unarmed police force as a kind of a line in the sand, a line that has been disastrously crossed by so many societies. It is a simple but powerful expression of the belief that if we arm our police that would have a domino affect right across society and provoke criminals to be ever more violent and better armed — just as has happened in America where gun control is so disastrously ineffective.
Garda Golden’s murder might help provoke a change in attitude to domestic violence too. After all, he was escorting a woman, who is still fighting for her life after being shot by her abusive partner, who then shot and killed him.
For far too long we have had, and so too have the gardaí, a less than rigorous approach to domestic violence. Far too many sets of statistics record that complaints are not always taken as seriously as they should be, thereby facilitating an escalation of violence visited on the victims, almost invariably women and children, caught in a terrible trap because they do not have an alternative place to live, to seek refuge.
Garda Golden’s family can be eternally proud of him and it may help them in their time of great sorrow to know that the thoughts of the vast majority of people on this island are with them because most of us realise that the peace and stability of this society sometimes demands a very heavy price.
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