To say that policeman Dennis is not keen on publicity is an understatement. Even though the interview was agreed and confirmed, he first explored every possible escape route. The first one: he doesn’t want me to record the conversation. The second: he doesn’t want me to take a picture. But his superiors have agreed to both, so after his initial refusal and a ten-minute telephone call, he returns, looking about as happy as a criminal who has had to surrender to a SWAT team.
‘Okay,’ he says, ‘You have 15 minutes.’
‘You must be a busy man. What are you busy with?’
‘I’m the sergeant in charge of all the Garda officers at the station at the moment. These are the Headquarters of Division B, at Pearse Street.’ The fact that the room we’re sitting in has no windows, just a table and two chairs, doesn’t do much to improve the atmosphere.
‘So you’re the boss?’
‘No, the boss is a chief superintendant.’
‘And when will you become one?’
‘But is it your ambition?’
‘Well, I guess that’s normal, but let’s see what happens over the years.’
He looks at the printout of my mail, with a list of possible questions. I have forgotten what questions are on the list, and I can’t see them from here but I don’t think I’m going to ask them anyway. I hope that doesn’t get me arrested.
Dennis, who is 35, joined the police 10 years ago. Before that he was a mechanic, but he always wanted to be a policeman.
‘I wanted to serve the community, to make a difference.’
‘Is it what you expected it to be?’
Yes, I enjoy it.
‘What do you like most?’
‘Everything. The comradery. Doing different things all the time.’
‘You’re a sergeant now.’
‘Yes, and above me there’s an inspector, and above that a superintendent.’
‘Yes, but how many Garda officers do you lead now?’
‘About 28. It’s a big change from being a guard, I’m not responsible just for myself. Fortunately, I was trained to lead, to be a manager.’
‘What do you do on an ordinary day?’
‘Today I have to stay inside and it will be paperwork, it has be done, part of the job, normally I would go on the street, walking, in the car or on a mountain bike, patrolling.’
‘Is Dublin a safe city?’
‘I would say so, relatively yeah. We don’t wear fire arms for example. Detectives will.’
‘How many murders per year?’
‘I think about 60.’
‘How do people here look at the police? Are you respected, or feared?’
‘I think that the majority of the people respect us. They listen to us.’
And what’s the social status of a policeman?’
‘We’re somewhere in the middle. It’s better than that of a mechanic.’
How about the working conditions? Are you paid well?’
‘The wages went down due to the crisis, but what could you do?’
‘Demonstrate maybe? Or aren’t you allowed to?’
‘No, we can do very little, we’re not allowed to strike or anything like that.’
‘What about the government, is it any good?’
‘Well, they inherited a bad situation, so what can you do? They’re doing their best.’
‘What does Europe mean to you? Do you feel European?’
‘No, I feel Irish. I’m 100% Irish.’
‘Have you been to other countries in Europe?’
‘I’ve been to England and Scotland, and to Prague and Spain.’
‘Do you feel more connected to, let’s say, somebody from Spain than to somebody from Vietnam?’
‘No, they’re all the same. All foreigners.’
‘And there are a lot of them in Ireland.’
‘Yes, I’ve seen that change, the past ten years. Maybe half of the people we’re dealing with is not Irish.’
‘The EU had to help Ireland as well. What does that mean to you?’
‘I guess we needed it. And it’s normal they helped: we are all working together.’
He looks at his watch.
‘Fifteen minutes are over.’