To Protect and Serve?

RL, Béal Feirste.

The callous murder of George Floyd sparked righteous anger across social media in the last few months which has spilled over onto the streets of not only Minneapolis but all across the United States, with scenes of looting and rioting scrolling past our eyes on social media as the media struggles to contain the political fallout. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin once again raises not only questions of the systematic racism of the US state, but also the role of the police in modern society.

The old American adage that the police are in place “to protect and serve” is well known to all of us, this idea has transcended the American consciousness and is how many Irish people view both An Garda Síochána and the PSNI.  The origins of both of these police forces is rooted in the maintenance of entrenched statelets. In the South, the Gardaí originate in the creation of the Free State, created to supplant and remove all democratic Republican organisations such as the Dáil Courts and the Republican Police. In the 6 counties, the PSNI are the successors of the RUC, the colonial occupying police force of the British Empire. 

As Socialists and Republicans we of course acknowledge that the police whether it is the NYPD or the RUC do protect, they do serve, but exactly who and what are they protecting and serving?

The routine everyday realities of policing in the US are written into its Constitution in the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the free state, the right of the people to bear arms, shall not be infringed.”


In Ireland, the second amendment means something very different. It was introduced to allow the Irish free state to suspend Habeas Corpus in order to facilitate internment without trial. A photograph of the Curragh interment camp, inlaid on the Irish constitution is shown above. Many communists and republicans would have their lives put on hold to live in reprehensible conditions, as internment, the antecedent of today’s Special Criminal Court, was used to ample effect to settle old scores.


This amendment is zealously cited today by American patriots, but its origins come from the constitutional right of a well armed militia to defend and expand the settler colonial society that is the United States of America and the economic and social relations it enshrined. Wage labour, private property and colonial domination were all alien concepts to the primitive communist societies of the native Americans. In essence, violence and brutality and the State’s monopoly on them, arrive on our streets and into our communities like they always do, through the very law which aimed to “protect” us. The origin of the sheriffs in the United States rests in the need for slave owners to recapture runaway slaves and/or police their communities and neighbourhoods.

For Irish Republicans, these realities are all the more obvious. British policing arrived in Ireland as it did in the US, at gunpoint. Despite partition, the judicial systems in the North and South are still inherently British. From the courtroom and into the police force, the British colonial system of the law continues to persist. It protects the interests of the Empire, of private capital, and of private property.

The police are an organisation trained in violence, a violence which maintains the social relations of today. Without the various police forces around the world, the capitalist state would not be able to maintain itself or its legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Many of us know that the police aren’t on our side, that they’re not interested in our problems, and that any discontent outside the rules of civility will result in imprisonment and prosecution.

Historical examples of the role of the police in Ireland date as far as 1913, when  the Dublin Metropolitan Police attempted to break up the strikes during the Dublin Lockout, in which William Martin Murphy, followed by 300 of the city’s largest employers, locked out over 200,000 workers. In the pickets and mass demonstrations that followed, the Dublin Metropolitan Police would make it very clear who they protected and served. A baton charge of the DMP on a union rally on O’Connell Street claimed the lives of 2 workers and injured 300 more. 

The breakup of militant trade unionism was paramount to the DMP, and that tradition continues today in Ireland. In 2010 the Gardai battoned students off the street,  in 2018 Gardái oversaw activists being beaten and all throughout 2015 and 2016, water charge activists were being arrested left, right and center. The role of the police becomes very clear when there is a political challenge raised against the status quo, and the police quickly swoop in and demonstrate whose side they are on.

In 2018, the CYM was evicted without a court order from occupied buildings in Cork.  The buildings were owned by AIB, one of the largest banks in the country.   In 2014, Gardai raided the homes of people in Jobstown and Tallaght, pulling them out of bed and drawing them through an extensive ordeal. The courts cleared their names, but the prosecution office still pursued this to the end.



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Armed Gardaí from the paramilitary ERU preparing to break down the doors and evict the CYM members living in an abandoned building owned by a vulture fund.


The Offences Against the State Act of 1939 is routinely used to imprison republicans and political activists in the South, while similar legislation in the North, framed around stopping terrorism, is used to imprison people all of the time. The Special Criminal Court was founded as a military court. It mirrors the diplock courts we find in the British jurisdiction. Both have the same purpose: conviction in a non-jury fashion. 

The origins of the police in developed capitalist countries has always been to maintain the legal system that the capitalist class manufactures. From constitutions and legal codes that enshrine private property, to the police departments filled with racists and bigots, the legal code reflects the system it protects.

True to form, the rebranded Police Service of Northern Ireland makes full use of the draconian legislation it has available to it. Namely, the Justice and Security Act (2007) which allows “A member of Her Majesty’s forces on duty or a constable may stop a person for so long as is necessary to question him to ascertain his identity and movements.” A piece of legislation designed to stifle and obstruct political activity which may dare to dispute the supreme authority of British imperialism in Ireland. It goes without saying that political activists and working class people bare the brunt of this law, the aim of which is keeping people in line, not protecting them.

The PSNI have been issuing fines to Black Lives Matter protesters in Derry and Belfast for breaking social distancing. This is very blatant political policing aimed at shutting down any popular voices of opinion against the police and the state. All major political parties in the 6 counties endorse the PSNI and sit on the Policing Board. Ironic then, that they would voice their undying support for the protests in the United States but don’t dare criticise the police on their front door, such is the facade of radical politics that constitutional nationalism tried to maintain.

There is unbroken chain and a universal experience combining the colonised and repressed peoples of the world. Frantz Fanon wrote about intergenerational collective trauma in French-colonised Algeria, and quit his role as a hospital psychiatrist to serve the revolution when he saw that the maladies he was treating were not caused or treatable by conventional factors. In Ireland and the US today, the fundamental questions surrounding the dispossessed, the compradors, and the owners, have never been fundamentally addressed, as they only can be through a project of socialist development and collective healing of the wounds of colonialism and settlement. The three states responsible use police to protect their class interests, rather than address the needs of societies that suffer from the hauntological presence of unfinished revolutions. Only by uniting together and empowering people to throw off their oppressors and find the new community that will serve as the basis for building socialism, can we advance rather than stagnate together. Critically analysing, rather than apologising for, the role of political policing is central to that.


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