Who does the Garda Representative Association (GRA) represent anyway? Two recent incidents, both tragic in their own ways, shed some light on the way in which the organisation conducts its job, and modern Ireland.
On Sunday morning, March 4th, Derek O’Toole was run over and killed by a car driven by an off-duty Garda and three colleagues in Lucan. O’Toole was allegedly lying on the ground when struck by the car, having been out for a night with a few friends of his. Prefaced by one of the great non-sequiturs of Irish reportage, “according to Garda sources”, when the driver came to Lucan “he saw something on the road which he initially thought was a sack. He swerved to avoid it but was unable to do so.” (Irish Times March 6th). Clearly the off-duty Garda officers, or their colleagues, had been talking with reporters about the entire incident, in great detail, well before any formal inquiry. On the same day and in the same newspaper, the mother of O’Toole felt the need to speak out about the use of the term ‘known to the Gardaí‘ used by some print media in the reports of the day before. Clearly, O’Toole’s character had to be impugned in the minds of someone for this phrase to be used in the 24 hours following the incident? Where did this phrase come from? Loose talk by the Gardaí or local press overstepping their boundaries? A tragic case for all involved. Not a peep from the GRA.
On March 16th, the Garda Representative Association asked all its members, their families and members of the public to “refrain from supporting” three newspapers (Irish Independent, Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Independent) for their coverage of the recent deaths (in childbirth) of a Garda sergeant and her newborn son. Ms Corcoran died while giving birth to twins in a Drogheda hospital – as did one of her sons. Interestingly, the letter sent by the GRA to all of the police stations in the State also mentioned the naming of the Garda in the Lucan incident involving Derek O’Toole and condemned the naming of the officers involved. What prompts the GRA to make extensive efforts on its members’ behalf? Does the partner of the woman who died appreciate this intervention by a vocational body? Was it prompted by the colleagues of the dead woman’s partner? Does the Garda‘s Commissioner, Noel Conroy, condone this issuing of a letter to every station in the State?
This weekend both of the main titles in the Irish Independent group of papers made grovelling apologies for the ways in which the tragic deaths of Ms Corcoran and her son were reported. I noted no apology to Mrs O’Toole for sullying the good character of her son, a cancer survivor and clearly loved by all his friends and family. Clearly, selling newspapers to Gardaí is more important than good reporting. This tells us a great deal about Ireland of 2007: the life of a man returning from a night out with friends matters less to the representative body of the police force than the reporting of a member’s death in a hospital and more importantly the way this incident was reported. Both incidents have been exploited by newspapers to sell copy; both incidents involved the loss of people who were clearly held dearly by their families.
You know that nerves are red raw when the ‘tone’ of a report is more important than its contents.