THE horrific scenes of gardaí under attack in a suburb of Dublin this week were shocking in their starkness and ferocity.
Unfortunately, these are scenes that are not that uncommon in many cities and towns around Ireland today.
Indeed we are reporting another upsetting scenario in our own paper this week, regarding assaults on local gardaí.
Such news reports would have been very rare 30, or even 20, years ago. Apart from attacks related to the Troubles, such incidents were practically non-existent. Hence our rank and file gardaí did not need to be armed as they are in other countries, or have to resort to protecting themselves to any great extent.
Nowadays, they are open to all sorts of assault or threats of harm. From physical violence to the use of weapons like knives and guns, they even have to contend with regular – potentially very serious – spitting incidents.
And while this country has not quite found itself in the grip of the gun culture of other, larger countries, an angry assailant can do as much damage with easily accessible weapons, or simple physical aggression.
While there is much to find distasteful in Ireland’s past, not least of all our reverence for many people in society because of their perceived ‘position’, the respect shown to An Garda Síochána is something we should fight hard to maintain.
This respect needs to be taught from a young age, to every citizen, because a society that does not have high regard for its law enforcers is a society that is crumbling at the seams.
And, in return, those entering any police force must equally be educated during their training in the importance of safeguarding that respect. But, most importantly, where that mutual esteem is threatened, society must impose strict sanctions on those engaged in damaging it.
This week the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said there was a pattern emerging for relatively ‘low level’ incidents turning very serious, very quickly.
There is no doubt that in many instances society’s failure to curb the prevalence of illegal drug-taking is fuelling some of that violence. But the perception of a lack of any legal consequence is not helping, either. There is a strong belief that many criminals will face nothing more than the ‘revolving door’ syndrome if apprehended, even convicted.
In recent days, several politicians have called for tougher sentencing for anyone convicted of assault on a member of the emergency services.
The Dublin incident came, in fact, just a few days after members of the GRA had sought a meeting with Justice Minister Helen McEntee about proposed new rosters for gardaí which, they believe, will reduce their take home pay and expose them to higher personal transport costs.
It was claimed that the proposed changes – which would mean shorter, but more, rostered shifts for gardaí, could wipe out gains made in recent pay deals. This shoddy treatment of our police force, on top of a major drop in numbers entering the garda training college, are all leading to a depletion of garda numbers.
Last August, Ireland had 14,283 serving gardaí, compared with 14,369 in 2021, and 14,628 in 2020.
Furthermore, it was recently estimated there will be a total of just 94 recruits this year, yet 270 gardaí had retired by last September.
The figures speak for themselves: the job is no longer seen as an attractive career prospect. The government needs to incentivise the role for school leavers, while also sending out a message that any attack on members of the force will be severely punished.
Anything less and the fabric of society will begin to crumble at an even greater rate.