I have been very critical of the Garda Siochana in the past. It is a force about which there is a lot to criticise. But as we as a nation laid Garda Tony Golden to rest, even a critic like me must always make one observation about the Gardai as a force and as individual police officers:
Courage has never been in short supply.
Every year, we hear stories of unarmed Gardai facing down armed criminals or diving into rivers to rescue people. They don’t carry out health and safety assessments. They do the job, and people live as a result.
When we set up the Garda Siochana the decision to have an unarmed police force was exceptionally risky in a country littered with weapons from a civil war. Many officers paid the ultimate penalty. But it worked. When you look at some US police forces, they seem to be de facto occupying armies. Our police force, despite scandals of recent years, is still a force of, for the most part unarmed civilians, fellow citizens we have given special powers to maintain order not by force as much as by moral authority. The decision to have an unarmed police force worked, and still works.
Watching the despair and heartbreak on the faces of Garda Golden’s family conveys the reality that few of us can comprehend the pain they must be going through. The Golden family has paid a huge price so that the rest of us can live in a safe and peaceful country.
This is a country where the murder of a single police officer is a national event, an event so appalling that the whole nation grieves, from the President down.
The fact that it is such a rare event is testament itself to the courage and dedication of Gardai like Tony Golden.