Banged Up Abroad: the unwatched Irish edition
Irish eyes have been trained on Peru this week, as Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid were charged with drug trafficking. It’s easy to forget about all the foreigners who are accused of smuggling drugs into Ireland
Handcuffed: Michaella McCollum Connolly with police in Peru on Tuesday. Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters
There have been some curious aspects to the coverage of the story of Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid. The most obvious is how much it was driven by the repeated drip-drip of visuals: CCTV footage at Lima airport, film of them in custody, photographs of the two at a beach.
Each piece fuelled coverage that would otherwise have struggled with blurred Facebook grabs in the interim between arrest and court appearance, while allowing it to be presented as a real-time special of Banged Up Abroad.
Yet, even as the images gave the public a sense of the women’s personalities and an opportunity for empathy, the tone of the reporting shifted over the days. By Wednesday, before the two were formally charged with drug trafficking, at least one newspaper had dropped the quotation marks around “drug mules”.
The bedrock of the coverage, though, has been predictability. In the Irish Mirror McCollum Connolly is Irish. In the Daily Mirror she is British. Either way, they are going to hell, as several papers put it (or, for elegant variation, a hellhole). Their prison is “notorious”. They went to court “shackled”. (They wore handcuffs.)
Which is not to say that anyone would relish a lengthy spell in a Peruvian jail – Amnesty has been on the country’s case for good reason – but the interest in this one story of young Irish and Scottish women ending up in a South American cell comes from a perspective that allows the blanking out of many similar stories.
You’re unlikely to know of Fidel Guiaso. A 35-year-old hairdresser from Colombia who had moved to the Netherlands, he had a boyfriend, an ill father with medical debts and no previous criminal convictions. Then, in 2008, he swallowed 87 pellets of cocaine, smuggled them into Ireland and managed to hand over 81 of them to his contact here before being arrested at a Dublin hotel.
A year later he was sentenced to six years in jail. Newspapers carried a brief report and Guiaso disappeared back into the mass of convicted criminals. He had been caught and jailed in a country he might reasonably have expected never to have stepped foot in otherwise. That was the gamble. He lost. This was the price.
Nor is much attention paid to the steady drip of arrests at Dublin Airport. The Congolese man who, in March, was alleged to have wrapped €5,000 of cannabis in leaves and flown in from Belgium. The Argentine man who, the next day, was arrested in the airport on suspicion of smuggling €35,000 of cannabis in candles. The Hungarian man that same night who Revenue reported had ingested 99 pellets of cocaine.