Google “secret police” and you will see the Wikipedia definition as follows – “The term secret police (or political police) refers to intelligence, security or police agencies that engage in covert operations against a government’s political opponents and dissidents. Secret police organizations are characteristic of totalitarian regimes.”
Do we have a secret police in Ireland? You could be forgiven for assuming a lack of visible jackboots or leather jackets means the answer is no. You might think the Gardaí only do things like casually ask drivers if they “have drink taken”, or get caught on video dancing at music festivals to great embarrassment. Aren’t they silly! The average Garda you’ll meet will be either very fair and pleasant or will leave you grinding your teeth, but is nevertheless an innocuous public servant doing their job to some extent. We’re not talking about that.
So who are they? Are they the ones who monitor and foil Jihadi terror cells in Ireland? Or lethal drug gangs who break the law literally as a career? Those police are monitoring criminals and terrorists with an indisputable track record and demonstrable intent to break the law or carry out terrorism. Monitoring these people while covert, invasive and targeted – does not constitute what springs to mind when we hear the ominous term “secret police”. What we do imagine are ideologically obsessive regimes weaponizing the invasive capacities of the police to monitor citizens for “thought crimes” and potentially persecute them for it.
My only deception so far has been implying that our “secret police” are actually a secret. For the handful of people who pay attention it’s publicly available information. The interesting wrinkle however as of three weeks ago was a press release article from these secret police delivered via Irish Times blogger Conor Gallagher. It’s common knowledge that when corporate blogs like The Irish Times and The Journal publish a “story” it’s effectively a press release copied and pasted uncritically from an institution who want to deliver their message to the public. The message this time – the secret police are real, we are watching you and we are coming for you. But only if you vocally disagree with the maxim “diversity is our strength”. Any other opinion and well.. that’s your opinion! But cut against regime ideology and the secret police will have you in their sights.
The press release article was headlined as follows – “Garda monitoring websites and online activists for hate speech”. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to support a corporate blog that profits from our housing crisis but let’s go through the key points here.
The first paragraph really sums it up – “Gardaí responsible for monitoring several websites and online personalities with a history of spreading racism and inciting hatred among Irish web users have noted a recent increase in activity”. The key thing here is the “Gardaí responsible” bit. Remind me again why any are Gardaí responsible for this? Isn’t their job to catch burglars, stop crimes, issue speeding tickets. You know.. police stuff? Secondly – What is the measurement for inciting hatred among Irish web users exactly? Are Gardaí measuring citizen “hate levels” before and after consumption? And the recent increase in activity? Does anyone else feel unnerved by the Gardaí scrutinizing an uptick in Irish viewership maybe of the latest Paul Joseph Watson video followed by (gulp) Facebook posts supporting the policies of the sitting US President. Is this really the job of our police? There are many more questions Conor Gallagher dutifully failed to ask, such as – who are these websites and online personalities exactly? Isn’t that the key detail every reader is entitled to be told? The readers generally being adults.
The Garda Computer Crime Investigations Unit have a dedicated unit responsible for monitoring hate speech directed at Irish audiences. This hits home with me personally because I have among other things been doing journalism on the immigration industry for some time now. And in 2019 rules if you do anything less than gush about the immigration industry, you are an automatic hate speech..er? It may seem like a delusion of grandeur to feel personally victimized by the secret police as it’s entirely possible they don’t know who I am. But it’s equally possible they do, and monitor my activity. Or at least it’s reasonable for me to suspect as much. If they are monitoring American content creators, is it reasonable to assume they’re monitoring similar albeit smaller Irish creators, commentators, journalists, activists and organisers. They mentioned “websites and online personalities” and while I don’t consider myself particularly notable in the sphere, it’s quite a small pool of identifiable voices. I’m telling you this not out of neuroticism or narcissism but to illustrate to you the reader that this isn’t an abstract problem. It could be you rightly or wrongly wondering if the secret police are “monitoring” you, which is of course the very effect all secret police throughout history have sought to foster.
We are led to believe we live in a liberal system with rights galore. But what if you make videos or write articles with a nationalist or populist worldview? Can you politely ask the secret police if they are monitoring you despite having broken no law and not being a suspect? Of course, monitoring and surveillance do not work by allowing the subject to enquire about it so the short answer is no. Yet they are hinting through corporate blogs like the Irish Times that they are.
I can almost hear critics protesting – So what if they monitor anti-regime citizens, journalists and activists? So what even if they are monitoring you personally? They’re probably only monitoring publicly available content anyway so what’s the big deal? My answer to either question is the same. So what if police follow you around all day in their car, not bothering you or interacting you but just monitoring you.
The natural question from here is what kind of political sentiment exactly are the Irish secret police monitoring? If I can’t ask them whether or not I’m on their list, maybe I can ask them what would put someone on their list of political suspects and surmise from there. Well luckily as part of their press release article in the Irish Times they listed out a few choice examples of what might land you in the crosshairs. “Claims that the Government is attempting to replace Irish people with immigrants” was one. This strikes me as bizarre because the phenomenon of European Governments replacing the demographic gap left by falling native birth rates with increased immigration is not even debatable, or controversial. Dearbhail MacDonald touched on this issue in her recent documentary “Fertility Shock”. I wonder are the Irish Secret Police monitoring her? As she wasn’t actually questioning the policy I get the feeling she’s off the hook.
To reiterate, it was deceptive of me to imply the Irish secret police are indeed a secret. The Garda Computer Crime Investigations hate speech monitoring Unit and Insp David McInerney’s “GRIDO” unit were never hidden operations. The kicker is that while they do function as “secret police” per the definition of the term, they are now making themselves precisely the opposite of a secret. They have begun using propaganda outlets to shout their existence from the rooftops under the guise of “news”. The objective is not merely surveillance of those who vocally criticize the regime, but to intimidate everyone else. Who wants to talk about or even think about things police are “monitoring” people for? We are social creatures and will recoil from that which we’re led to believe will “draw trouble”, a trait especially pronounced in the Irish psyche. This is the instinct they are relying on if not preying upon. I recommend dispensing with this instinct if any lingers in you as it surely does in me. The right to question authority, any authority – is not up for debate.