SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR GARDA WHO ASSAULTED RTÉ CAMERAMAN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time RB article: 5 mins; I.Times article: 3 mins)

In court on 6th March in Dublin, Garda Sean Lucey, who had struck an RTÉ cameraman with his baton in the groin, although his statement was “less than an apology”, received a suspended prison sentence. He had been found guilty by a jury in December but the Judge had postponed sentencing. Antifascists arrested on the same day as the assault by Garda Lucey, while preventing the proposed Dublin launch of the European islamophobic group Pegida, have been fined and three are still facing trial.

Garda Sean Lucey, leaving the court after his sentencing for assault on a journalist.
(Source: Irish Times).

          It was back on 6th February 2016, coincidentally the centenary of the 1916 Rising, when the islamophobic European organisation Pegida, announcing its intention to launch itself in a major city in every European state, planned a rally to launch an Irish branch in Dublin. The individuals and organisations supporting this initiative included racist, fascist and generally far-Right groups and individuals in Europe, including in Ireland.

Long before the planned Pegida rally, anti-racists and antifascists had occupied the intended space outside the GPO, while groups of anti-fascists mingled with curious bystanders on the other side of the street. Quite soon, some fascists of Eastern European background began to insult some women and also to threaten a filmmaker from Rabble, an independent alternative media organisation, calling him a “ fucking communist”.

Earlier that day, the anti-fascists and anti-racists had occupied the site of the
planned Pegida rally.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Fascists of E. European origin make their presence known in North Earl Street through threats and insults. (Photo source: Antifascist photographer)

Having revealed themselves, the fascists quickly became the targets of antifascist hostility and scattered down North Earl Street. Some scuffles took place there and some of the fascists ran on down Talbot Street. Gardaí, including riot police (Public Order Unit) waded into the antifascists and also beat up a fascist, in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Subsequently the Gardaí cordoned off that area with drawn batons and police dogs.

It was soon revealed that some other fascists were holed up in a bar in Cathedral Street and many antifascists made their way there, only to run into another confrontation with riot police who repeatedly struck anti-fascists in order to drive them out into O’Connell Street. It was there that the assault on the RTÉ journalist took place.  It took until December 2020 for the case to come to court while, in the meantime, anti-fascists were charged, convicted and fined.

Gardaí wielding batons in Cathedral St.
(Photo source: Antifascist photographer)

The report of the case in the Irish Times (see References, Sources) reveals three things, it seems:

  1. The fact that his victim was a journalist of the State broadcaster and supported by his union and employers meant the Gardaí could not get away with the assault without some kind of punishment;

  2. On the other hand the Judge was determined to treat the assault as leniently as possible under the circumstances;

  3. The Garda’s whole attitude was in essence that he had done nothing really wrong.

Regarding Garda Lucey’s attitude, which even Judge Melinda Greally remarked upon (“his statement of regret falling short of an apology”), it suggested that he might well have assaulted or would in future assault some other member of the public – especially if he were not a journalist of a State broadcasting service. Perhaps an independent journalist …. or an anti-fascist demonstrator …. or even some member of the public who voiced some objection to his behaviour.

Furthermore, before Garda Lucey struck Mr. Colm Hand in the groin, he struck at his camera. What can that mean? Surely nothing less than that he did not wish his actions or those of his colleagues to be recorded! And perhaps a message to other potential journalists in future. Colm Hand declared that apart from the pain of the injury at the time (which could have caused permanent injury), “what happened on that day shattered my confidence and I have never fully recovered.” The five-day trial in December last year, necessary because Garda Lucey did not admit initially to the offence, was also stressful for Mr. Hand and that and the period leading up to it had caused him worry and sleeplessness.

The Judge must’ve been aware of all these possibilities in future and past Garda behaviour and yet, despite Garda Lucey’s attitude, decided to view his assault as “an aberration.”

This was because, she said, he had no previous blots on his career. But how would those blots have appeared if he had, indeed, behaved similarly in previous situations? Who would have recorded those incidents in his career? The only reason this occasion was noted was because he had struck a journalist of a state broadcasting service and neither the victim, his employers nor his union had been prepared to drop the matter so that, eventually, it had to come to court.

QUESTIONS NOT ASKED

          The Irish mass media – including RTÉ itself — does not ask such questions. Nor speculate whether Garda violence was inflicted on others in that area on that day.  It was and I myself witnessed it. 

Part of the struggle in Cathedral Street.
(Photo source: Internet)

After I moved forward to denounce one Garda who was beating the protectively-raised hands of a protester, one huge member of the POU struck at my fingers with his baton several times and when I evaded the blows, shoved the baton into my stomach, which caused me in reflex to grab it and engage in a short tugging battle, during which he grew increasingly irate and I increasingly worried for my personal safety.

During a sit-down protest outside the Dáil some years ago, Gardaí drew their batons and assaulted demonstrators peacefully sitting down, which was photographed in clear evidence. Not one Garda was charged with assault (nor likely reprimanded) arising out of that incident. And there have been many other such incidents.

No judge should quote an unblotted record of a Garda as any reason for leniency in sentencing. But of course, the judiciary realise that the Gardaí are the first physical line of defence of the system they uphold and for that reason they will always get special consideration. As Judge Greally was quoted as saying, “she has the highest regard for the work of the Gardaí.”

END AND AFTERMATH OF THE PEGIDA CONFLICT

          The Pegida V Anti-racists conflict in which that assault on Colm Hand took place is only vaguely referred to in the Irish Times report – surely a deliberate occluding of context and of an event that would have been of interest to its readers.

After the various struggles in North Earl and Cathedral Streets, Gardaí pretended to arrest the fascists and brought them out in police vans to safety while decoy vans made their way into O’Connell Street, drawing large crowds of anti-fascists to block them and curious onlookers to view the event. Earlier, some Irish fascists coming in to town by LUAS had run into antifascists and never made it to the intended Pegida launch, one needing to go to A&E instead.

Subsequently, antifascists monitoring fascist communications reported that some Eastern European fascists complained of the lack of spine of their Irish counterparts and swore they would never again cooperate with them. Dublin may have been the only European capital where Pegida did not succeed in launching itself and subsequently the whole initiative faded from the news.

Launch of the Pegida ship in Dublin.
(Cartoon D.Breatnach)

As noted earlier, a number of antifascists faced charges and were sentenced in court, including fined. Three Irish Republicans of different allegiances were charged and are currently awaiting trial; their charges are of “violent disorder” which on conviction carry a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. It is the first time this charge has been used by the Irish State against political activists.

End.

REFERENCES, SOURCES:

Irish Times report on sentence: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/criminal-court/garda-who-assaulted-rt%C3%A9-cameraman-gets-suspended-sentence-1.4195207

Violent disorder charge and penalty: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1994/act/2/section/15/enacted/en/html

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