When we were free
The jailing of Andy Heasman on Friday exposes the consequences of a series of seismic shifts in the way Ireland is governed, administered and controlled under the heading of Freedom.
In the early hours of last Saturday morning, a friend sent me a link to an article in the Evening Herald dated July 24th 2010, and headlined, ‘Being rude to a garda is not a crime.’ [https://www.herald.ie/news/courts/being-rude-to-a-garda-not-a-crime-27957671.htm]
The report concerned a court case in which a young man stood accused of ‘hurling abuse at a garda’ as a result of being pulled over for entering a bus lane in Clanbrassil Street, Dublin, on July 31st 2009. The young man was charged with a breach of the peace, and of ‘using threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour.’
The guard claimed that, after he spoke to him, he said, the accused ‘took off’ at speed and shouted ‘scumbag’, which he could hear as the car window was open. The young man, who had been accompanied in his vehicle at the time of the incident by a ten year-old child, denied that he used that particular word. He told the judge: ‘I just said “ah for fuck’s sake”, I didn't say scumbag. I wouldn't use language like that in front of a child.’
Then comes the — to 2020 ears — interesting part. Dismissing the charge, Judge Catherine Murphy said that it was not a crime to be rude to a guard. She said a High Court ruling had clearly established that rudeness or using abusive language towards members of An Garda Siochána does not constitute a breach of the peace.
Having just come back from my native West, where in the course of the day I had attended at the courthouse in Castlebar, Co Mayo, a county I had worked in for several years in my youth, and later the prison in my hometown, Castlerea, Co Roscommon, I found the judgement both breathtaking and heartbreaking. The similarities between the case of Andy Heasman, sentenced in Castlebar District Court to two months in prison for a remarkably similar ‘offence’, could hardly be more striking and more troubling.
Many media platforms reported that Andy had been jailed for refusing to wear a face mask on a bus. This was an out-and-out lie, but then lying is now the stock-in-trade of the Irish media. In fact, Andy had been convicted on two ‘public order’ charges: a refusal to give his name and address, and a second, rather more vaguely defined offence, intimating — as in the Clanbrassil Street incident, ‘threatening behaviour’, ‘insulting behaviour’, ‘reckless behaviour’.
The outline facts are as follows. On July 14th last, Andy had stepped on to a CIE bus in Ballyhaunis with a view to travelling to his home in Knock, about six miles away. This was to be the last leg of his journey that day from Dublin. His uncle had just died and, due to the lockdown provision, Andy was not able to attend the funeral, which was taking place that day. A disagreement ensued between Andy and the bus driver about the wearing of a face mask. Andy is asthmatic and for this reason does not wear face masks. Aside from the general scientific controversy concerning the usefulness or advisability of mask-wearing, there is considerable evidence in support of this specific position. Specialists warn that people with chronic asthma should avoid wearing face masks because of the danger of hypoxia, a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level. For example, the CEO of Asthma Canada, Vanessa Foran,has said that, for an asthmatic, simply wearing a mask can create a risk of an attack. Andy had a mask with him, which he wore around his forehead, purely in the hope of deflecting the kind of harassment that was already becoming commonplace, just days after the introduction of the face mask regulations. He told the driver that he had a disability and was exempt from wearing the mask on that account. The driver — as with many such people, and indeed many gardai — did not know what the law was, and assumed it to contain a blanket requirement that everyone wear a face mask when travelling on a public transport vehicle. When Andy declined, explaining his position, the driver demanded that Andy prove that he had a disability, and Andy replied that the details of his condition were confidential. A standoff ensued and the driver left the bus and called the guards.
The guards arrived and tried to persuade Andy to wear the mask as directed. He continued to refuse, explaining his position. The guards eventually got off the bus and, a short time later, becoming distressed because he heard a child crying at the back of the bus, Andy himself got off. As he emerged, the two guards and the bus driver were standing in a huddle at the bottom of the steps. As Andy passed them, addressing the driver, he said, ‘I’m off your fucking bus now!’ Immediately, the guards pounced on him, pinioned and handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest.
In court, the guards did their best to inflate this into a capital crime, alleging that Andy had intimidated, frightened and insulted the other passengers on the bus. The problem is there was a video recording of the incident, which was played in court, and which bears out none of these allegations. In fact, at one point close to the end of the exchange with Andy on the bus, one of the guards told him that, up to that point, he had committed no offence and if he would just put on the mask he could continue his journey. Asked about this under cross-examination by Andy, the guard said he had only said this to ‘pacify’ Andy — which implies either that he had lied then or was lying now. The judge, a youngish woman called Lydon, chose to make nothing of this.
I was present in court as Andy’s ‘McKenzie friend’, which simply means that I was there to accompany and support him, sort his papers and hand them to him at the appropriate time. Contrary to what the pondlife of the twittersphere seek to insinuate, I was not there in lieu of a lawyer. Andy represented himself. A McKenzie friend does not have speaking rights in court, and, due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid regime, I was not even able to sit beside Andy as he made his submissions and conducted cross-examinations of his two garda accusers. He and I had discussed the case in advance and worked out a broad strategy, which Andy executed with remarkable courage, forbearance and skill, though to zero avail.
It was noticeable from the outset that the judge was not well disposed towards Andy. Her manner was hectoring and abrupt, occasionally bordering on the rude. When Andy was interrupted in his submission at one point by the Garda inspector who was prosecuting him, the judge did not intervene; but when Andy sought to answer back she intervened to support the inspector. The context of this, ironically, was that Andy was at that point engaged in explaining some of the intricacies of the face mask issue — this being the reason the incident occurred in the first place — and the inspector intervened to state that, since there was no charge relating to the face masks, this was irrelevant — an utterly imbecilic and/or dishonest assertion, which would later be contradicted by the judge in her summing up.
Andy was not charged with any offence relating to face masks or any aspect of the Covid regulations or so-called laws. The trouble is that, as the two main Garda representaive associations pointed out at the beginning, the face mask laws are utterly unenforceable. And, as I outlined in a recent article (‘Achtung, Covidräte!’), gardai, being unable to enforce these regulations due to their incoherence and unconstitutionality, instead deal with complaints by inventing some kind of public order offence so as to justify dragging people off buses and trains because they seek to inform drivers and other officials of what the regulations actually say. For the avoidance of doubt, the regulations do not make it obligatory that a passenger produce evidence of their ‘reasonable excuse’ for not wearing a mask, though they do, at the same time — absurdly and unlawfully — place in the hands of an unqualified public transport official the right to decide whether someone is entitled to an exemption or not. No law, no legal system, may place in the hands of any individual, qualified or not, an arbitrary power like this: It is a breach of the most fundamental principles of natural justice. But, as I explained in my recent article, the politicians have set things up like this so as to create maximum public confusion, which is guaranteed to ensure maximum public compliance with these capricious and illogical measures.
Technically and otherwise, Andy was convicted on a public order offence: refusing to give his name and address. Another, extremely vague public order charge, relating to events on the bus and after Andy got off, but in reality cobbled together by the prosecuting garda into a kind of legal blancmange to patch up a gaping hole in the stitch-up, was marked ‘taken into consideration’. The trouble with this is that, at the time when Andy declined to give his name, he was not — from the very mouths of the arresting garda — accused or suspected of committing any offence. The guard was therefore at that time not entitled to ask him for his name and address. Moreover, unless another offence has occurred in advance, refusal to give your name and address is not any kind of offence. And, since the second — vaguely defined and pumped-up — charge relates to events after Andy’s refusal to give his name, it cannot be lawful to convict him primarily of the refusal to give his name and address, as the judge appears to have done. Here, the judge invoked a previous case involving an unlawful arrest which she appeared to believe enabled her to get around this problem. While we shall await with interest the publication of a written judgement and the transcript of the hearing, it does not appear that the judgement she alluded to (she did not provide a detailed account) can be of assistance to her. The only remotely legal option would have been to convict Andy on a public order charge that occurred before he refused to give his name and address, and then either convict him on both charges or mark the refusal to give his name as ‘taken into consideration’.
There were a number of other very odd and very troubling circumstances that arose in the course of our very dark wet day in Mayo. The hearing lasted three hours from start to finish, but for about one-third of that time the judge was absent from the courtroom. Having called a brief recess after hearing evidence, she left the courtroom and did not reappear for almost an hour. Her ruling took less than five minutes to deliver, and while she may have been referring to notes she’d made while she was elsewhere in the building, did not appear to read from a written ruling. She referred briefly to a single case by way of precedent. The chief plank of her remarks was by way of a sanctimonious pronouncement of disapproval of Andy’s actions on the basis of the Covid laws — in the light of the public health emergency, she said, Andy’s behaviour had been ‘totally inappropriate' — apparently indifferent to the fact that, two hours before, the Garda prosecutor had devoted much energy to denying that the prosecution had anything to do with the Covid law, a position she had intervened to support him on.
Does it take an hour to make up this kind of pious gibberish? Why, then, the long absence? We know why. This was a political trial.
And then another series of events started to unfold that really must cast in the darkest light any remaining notions we may have of An Garda Siochána as a citizens’ police force, acting on our behalf by consent, with a minimum of aggression and without prejudice or malice.
The judge made provision for a bail bond of €500 cash in the event that Andy wished to appeal, which obviously he did. After Andy was taken into custody, we — some of his friends and I — made enquiries of gardai and court officials as to the procedures needing to be undertaken to bring about Andy’s release on this basis. We were told that we needed to fill out a form and produce the €500 in cash. One guard — a decent guy, among many who are otherwise — said to me: ‘Money talks around here!’ We were informed that, once the judge had approved the bond, Andy could be released and would come out via the front door of the courthouse. We followed all this and I personally handed a copy of the form to the prosecuting Garda inspector. In about an hour, the matter was called; Andy’s friend, who had signed the bond, was subjected to a brief cross-examination, and the judge pronounced herself happy with the arrangement. We then waited at the front door for an hour, until we overhead a guard nearby telling somebody that Andy had been taken to Castlerea prison. When we investigated, we were told at the registrar’s hatch that, Oh yes, you were supposed to file the appeal at the same time as entering into the bail bond. I pointed out that, although the courts are supposed to be a public service, nobody had told us this, and in fact had given us an entirely different impression. The answer I got was: ‘We don’t give people legal advice.’ I offered that this wasn’t a matter of legal advice, just basic procedural information. The mind-numbing answer came back: Oh, if we give people information like that we might be open to being sued.
In fact, this was entirely bogus. The rules for appeals from the District Court to the Circuit Court do not make any connection between a recognizance for the purpose of an appeal and the appeal itself. The two matters are procedurally separate. The chief requirement in respect of a notice of appeal is that it be filed ‘within 14 days of the decision’. Bail is granted on the understanding that an appeal is to be filed, but there is no requirement that this happens beforehand. In fact, the entire thrust of the exchanges we had observed or engaged it — involving the judge, the prosecution, the registrars office and the gardai — was that the arrangement of bail was a discrete matter requiring to be dealt with before anything else could happen. Indeed, when we called Castlerea prison to ask if Andy had arrived there, and explained what had happened, we were informed that what we had described as having occurred would have been highly irregular and ought not to have happened. Something odd was afoot.
This brings us back to the hour or so for which the judge was absent from the courtroom. Was the judge meditating? Was she having a nap? What was happening in that period? Clearly, she did not spend the entire period poring over lawbooks or writing a detailed judgement. It is interesting — by the by — that in the several cases I sat through while waiting for the matter of Andy’s bail bond to come up, not a single one resulted in a custodial sentence. Several of the accused were clearly repeat offenders, and the charges against them usually involved intoxication and violence — in other words real as opposed to contrived offences. Andy had some previous form, chiefly road traffic offences from some time back, but nothing to merit a custodial sentence even if the charges against him had a scintilla of substance.
Andy Heasman’s case was different: It was, as I say, political. The more immediate objectives in jailing him included the harvesting of media headlines warning of the consequences of refusing to wear face masks. The way Andy was spirited away after his bail bond had been passed by the judge, while we were being told that he would be released at any moment, was a clear attempt to make sure this narrative was not spoiled by photographs of Andy being greeted by his friends, who had clubbed together to raise his bail.
Andy was jailed for several reasons, none of which was based on any offence he committed: He was confronting a wicked and ruthless state and seeking to expose corrupt laws that are destroying the life of his society and threatening his own health; he insisted on telling truthfully what happened and defending his own and, by extension, everyone's freedoms; his arrest was a grotesque example of Garda overreach and corruption; he refused to plead guilty; he was associated with Gemma O'Doherty and John Waters who are known troublemakers who refuse to lie down; and the regime needed a pubic relations episode to further terrorise Paddy so as to nip any Christmas/end-of-year awakening in the bud.
When finally, about 5pm, we achieved some clarity about Andy’s whereabouts, we went to Castlerea, nearly 50 miles away, to try to effect his release. There were about a dozen of us waiting for him outside the main gate of the prison, when two squad cars in convoy, laden down with officers, pulled up nearby, and two officers got out, approached us and started trying to pick out individuals from among us and interrogate them. One guardette demanded Gemma' O’Doherty’s a name and, when Gemma responded that she had no right to demand her name unless she was suspected of some offence, replied: ‘Anyone is entitled to ask you your name.’ This captures perfectly the trick gardai appear to have been coached in pulling on people in the new dispensation of the fascist commissioner, Drew Harris: ‘Sure I'm only being friendly! Lighten up!’I explained to the officer that, as a member of the police force, she was endowed with the power to invoke the exercise of state coercion, of which An Garda Siochána enjoys a monopoly, and to employ force as she deemed necessary, against any citizen, so her asking someone for their name was not the same as me saying to someone, for example, down a bar counter, ‘And what’s your name, boss, anyway?’ Many people are unable to see into this gobshitery, and walk themselves into situations where they become vulnerable to this false bonhomie that often leads to more sinister dealings. At that point, the guardette walked away, saying, ‘I'm not going to argue about this’, to which I replied that this too was in keeping with the general practice: When they lose the argument, they act like you’re the one who’s started it.
Friday was a dark day in my encroaching comprehension of the darkness that is rapidly falling over our beloved country. I sat in a courtroom for a total of more than four hours and watched grown men and women sitting there poring over documents, writing or consulting notes (It was remarkable that, several times in the course of the hearing, the judge had to call for more writing paper, as though she had never before had so much call to take notes about a case in front of her) all for the sole and deliberate purpose of stitching up an innocent man. All because of the word ‘fucking’ — as though this word had never been heard before and had shocked all concerned to their very cores. Because, of course, whatever the charge sheet said, this was the sole pretext, flimsy as it was, out of which the guards grabbed their chance to handcuff Andy. Of course, the case based on a single ‘fucking’ was so threadbare that the guards had to beef it up with trumped up waffle about ‘insults’ and ‘recklessness’. Near the end, perhaps fearing that the case was slipping away from him (this was before the judge’s lengthy absence) the prosecuting inspector tried to suggest that ‘recklessness’ on the charge sheet was intended to mean that Andy had been recklessly endangering the lives of his fellow passengers. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the relevant offence in that case would be attempted manslaughter, if not attempted murder, and not public disorder.
Leaving the courthouse, departing Castlebar for what I hope is the last time, crossing the border from Mayo to Roscommon, I felt unclean, nauseous, revolted to the very core of my metaphysical and physical being. What I had just spent the day witnessing (and there was, as I’ve said, more to come) was the final usurpation of the rule of law, the judicial system and the policing authority vested in An Garda Siochána, as a sacred trust, by the people of Ireland.
How did we get to this? We got to it by failing to pay attention. By allowing ourselves to be intimidated and silenced. By giving in to bully-boys and bully-girls.
The report of the Clanbrassil Street case referred to at the outset brought to me a realisation: much of this cancer has taken hold in perhaps no more than a decade. Perhaps the traces of it had been there for some time, perhaps a long time, but I have a growing sense for the past few years that some kind of rupture had occurred in our culture, resulting in the loss of our moral, cultural, legal, philosophical and spiritual equilibrium.
That Evening Herald report came to me as though it were a time capsule from some ancient era of sense and decency, from some distant time when basic human values still informed the administration of this republic.
And, reading it, I became aware of something else: We have all been drawn into this. We are all culpable for it.
It’s very interesting to see how the regime that has emerged in the last handful of years has gradually, osmotically, bent the rules and their meanings to create a situation whereby a citizen who simply argues his case with a guard, who stands by the law, who behaves in a human fashion — without violence or threat of violence but simply stating facts and refusing to bend, because there is something called Truth, and something called Justice, and something called Decency — can be stitched up by, essentially, the manipulation of words — I mean words like ‘insulted’, ‘reckless’ ‘agitated’, ‘offensive’ etc. Not to mention manipulation of words like ‘pandemic; and ‘emergency’.
I would say that a critical juncture in this process was the assault on our culture by the LGBT agitators who from early 2014 onward descended on our country and proceeded to trample into the ground anyone who dared to question their motives or objectives. They tore down posters they didn’t like and bullied venue managers into cancelling the meetings of their opponents, demonised and smeared people who opposed them, engaged in public threats of violence against people who had done nothing but express an opinion or asked a question. And all the while, just in case any of the people on the receiving end of this treatment might contemplate making an issue of it, An Garda Siochána was driving around in cars painted up in rainbow colours.
This sent out a signal that it may be impossible to unring: You are guilty when we say so. We decide what the charge is, and our stated sense of affront will be the sole evidence in the matter; whatever we say your words signify will be the truth not just of what you have said but of who you are. We are the law.
This was the beginning of the end of common sense and cop-on as viable quantities in our culture. For then, as with the mechanism whereby the regime transfers the onus of policing from the guards to the public, from the law to the culture, so the referendums of 2015 and 2018 resulted in a never-before-seen phenomenon of self-policing, whereby people fitted air brakes to their mouths to slow them down before speaking.
And one of the effects of this is that, in matters in which the regime is implicated, and likely to unleash its dogs of war via social media or the journaliars of the legacy media, we all have unconsciously fallen into the habit of equivocating within before we pronounce on just about anything apart from the weather and the football. ‘Ah, I don’t think there was any call for her to say that?’ ‘I like to live and let live.’ ‘Sure the guard was only doing his job!’
And gradually we begin to believe that perfectly unexceptional statements or exclamations are no longer acceptable.
And, when someone like Andy Heasman runs afoul of the system, we resort to equivocation to avoid the obvious, which is that his experience spells out for each of us this new dispensation being imposed upon us all. ‘Ah, he was a bit OTT.’ ‘He shouldn’t have used the f-word.’ ‘Maybe Andy did himself no favours.’ ‘Ah, he’s entitled to make his point but he went too far.’ Et cetera.
The process works on you and on me, so you start to think the way they want you to think; so that I start to frame new limits within myself as to what I feel I should be entitled to say, so that in the end they achieve total acquiescence on the basis of the collision of fear with passive aggressive gobshitery: ‘Anyone is entitled to ask your name,’ says the guardette. Or, as another guard was heard saying at a checkpoint to a driver who gave him a smart answer: ‘What would you say if I went into your workplace and said something like that to you...’ Et cetera.
The line is shifted without anyone noticing. But the line is in each one of us and marks the boundary of our freedom to be ourselves, to defend ourselves, to hazard an hypothesis, to speak as we find. It makes us inwardly collude with our own enslavement even when we’re objecting to it. We defend ‘free speech’, but inwardly and unknowingly have been ‘educated’ to step back from the person who is still behaving humanly. The line shifts again. And the problem is that the only way, ultimately, to conform to the destination that this logic is taking us to is to stop making your point, stop hazarding hypotheses, stop being argumentative, and bow down.
Think about that and look around you now, and ask yourself this question: Are the people in your vicinity really, truly free? Are you?