John McManus: Garda reduced to being security men at drug dealer funerals

How can it be considered a success when gardaí facilitate a public celebration of crime

Gardaí at the service for  David Byrne in St Nicholas of Myra church on Francis Street: A visitor to Dublin  in the vicinity   might have assumed  they had happened across the funeral of a pillar of the local community. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Gardaí at the service for David Byrne in St Nicholas of Myra church on Francis Street: A visitor to Dublin in the vicinity might have assumed they had happened across the funeral of a pillar of the local community. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

A visitor to Dublin who was in the vicinity of St Nicholas of Myra church on Francis Street on Monday would have assumed that they had happened across the funeral of a pillar of the local community. The large crowds. The Garda motorcycle escort. The diverting of traffic in order to allow the funeral cortege travel unimpeded from the church to the cemetery several miles away through a crowded city.

Had they clocked the armed men in balaclavas sitting nearby in a parked jeep they might have had second thoughts. But you suspect they would most probably have assumed they were there to protect the mourners at the funeral of some important personage from criminal elements.

They would have been half right. What would not have been obvious – initially at least – was that the person receiving what resembled a State funeral was a criminal who had been shot dead by other criminals.

While the Garda have collected plaudits for ensuring the safety of the public as this bizarre spectacle played out on Monday, it is worth asking how it came about that they ended up as unpaid security at a drug dealer’s funeral?

The obvious answer is that they were not really doing much more than they would for any big funeral which involved thousands of mourners in a busy area during the day. You might come across much the same thing in a busy country town, the argument goes.

Public safety

The difference, of course, is that that the person whose massive funeral might have been impeding your progress on in a country town on a Monday lunchtime with the blessing of the Garda, was most likely a genuine pillar of the local community.

The more powerful argument is the public safety one. You don’t have to search very hard to find examples from the Troubles of when the decision by the security forces to stand back from a paramilitary funeral led to further bloodshed. Michael Stone rampaging through Milltown Cemetery in 1988 leaving three people dead and 60 injured being a salutary example.

It is pretty clear that this was the reasoning behind the Garda decision to facilitate Monday’s spectacle complete with its own unique twists including matching outfits for the coffin party and the group of men that followed immediately after the coffin. They may have all been channelling their inner Quentin Tarantino but it was one of the more sinister aspects of what was a pretty sinister event.

Several newspaper reports noted the irony of a hapless junkie stumbling around among the mourners who were there to pay their respects to a man whose day-to-day business was the smuggling and peddling the drugs that had reduced him to a shambolic ruin.

It also says something not very palatable about how the fight against organised crime is going. There has been plenty written over the past week about resources and leadership in the Garda. The events of Monday were even held up as an example of what the Garda could achieve if properly resourced.

The paradox is obvious. How can it be considered a success when the Garda find themselves reduced to the role of facilitating a very public celebration and indeed glamorisation of criminal activity and its subculture. If they had wanted to become recruiting sergeants for the gangs they are fighting they would have found it hard to do a better job.

Something similar will no doubt occur when Eddie Hutch, who was killed in a revenge for the shooting of David Byrne, is laid to rest. Given the nature of these things, his family may feel the need to put on a bigger display of strength.

David Byrne was entitled to a funeral and his family were entitled to mourn him. But it is reasonable to ask if, under the circumstances, they were entitled to organise something that was not in the public interest and could have endangered the public unless massive Garda resources were deployed. And we can assume the men in the matching suits were not sent the bill.

Limits

We can also assume that the Garda did not do what they did out of some exaggerated respect for the dead or some misplaced sense of chivalry. There is no Geneva convention on gangster funerals. There is, however, any number of laws that could have been used to put some limits on what happened on Francis Street.

That the Garda couldn’t or didn’t use them is telling. That they chose to follow the containment tactics adopted by the security forces in the North during the height of the Troubles speaks volumes about where the balance of power lies in the battle against organised crime.

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