The incident late yesterday, when masked gardaí provided heavy protection to similarly masked, black-clad private security contractors attempting to gain entry to a shuttered building on North Frederick Street occupied by housing activists has drawn much adverse comment in the press and on social media. And rightly so. The extraordinary scenes of men in paramilitary-style clothing trying to cut and smash their way into a building in the city centre on behalf of a landlord, while members of an Garda Síochána in body-armour acted as their shield against protesters and inquisitive journalists, is deeply offensive to our moderns notions – and expectations – of policing in Ireland.
The confrontation in Dublin was redolent of nothing less than the Land War period of the late 19th century and the pen-and-ink images we saw in our history books of hired ruffians escorted by officers of the colonial Royal Irish Constabulary tossing people from their homes. If this is the new era of law enforcement we have been promised by Fine Gael and its partners in government, gardaí and unknown mercenary thugs illegally hiding their identity behind balaclavas, driving through the streets of the capital in an unmarked van with the front registration plate removed, then we are going backwards as a nation not forward.