I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis given in last night’s Prime Time, as well as in other snippets of coverage of the GSOC bugging story I caught yesterday, to the contracting of a British firm to do the security sweep. It was as though the act of contracting a British firm were suggestive of some kind of treasonous disloyalty to An Garda Siochána and all those other impeccable institutions of Saorstát Éireann, I mean, Ireland.
Contrast this to when the Department of Social Protection spends €140,989 on an internal management report from the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. No-one cares about the fact that this entity is based in Britain, and it is hard to see why they should, given the fact that so many of the firms contracted to provide services to state bodies are not Irish firms. But part of chasing the Ombudsman –which is scarcely independent of An Garda Siochána by any reasonable measure- through “the woods” (which is where RTÉ described it last night) means characterising it as some sort of foreign body.
The other night on RTÉ news Taoiseach Enda Kenny led the charge against the Ombudsman for its failure to report the security breach to the Minister for Justice. In doing so he told a barefaced lie about the legal requirements on the Ombudsman to report such breaches.
The Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the AGSI General Secretary John Redmond followed the Taoiseach’s lead in singling out the Ombudsman as the source of the problem. The dominant frame established for the reporting of the story was that of a beleaguered Ombudsman incapable of doing its duty. Writing in the Irish Times yesterday, political correspondent Stephen Collins said that the episode ‘appeared to have damaged the reputation’ of the commission, as if writing such a thing had no bearing on creating the appearance of a damaged reputation.
Such a mobilisation allows us to speculate about the workings of the collective unconscious of the Irish establishment: complaints from the public about State abuses carried out against members of the public are the work of seditious foreigners. Or, in simpler terms, the public is the enemy of the State.
The fact that there have been attempts to bug Garda Ombudsman ought to be the primary matter of concern for the public. The Ombudsman is supposed to operate, after all, on behalf of the public, to ensure that An Garda Síochána does not abuse its powers. Therefore any attempt to interfere or frustrate its operations is nothing more than an attack on democracy. The fact that the Taoiseach, the Garda Commissioner and the AGSI General Secretary all mobilised, with the aid of Ireland’s public broadcaster and other media outlets, to turn this into a problem with the Ombudsman, and not with the attack on democracy, is, simply and unambiguously, a subversion of democratic rule.
Who, then, are the subversives that need to be pursued?