Working in Shannon since 1984, Joe Burke retired from An Garda Síochána at the end of 2011.
The Kilkenny man won a Minor All-Ireland Championship in 1972, alongside a certain Brian Cody and the following year he joined the gardaí. His hurling career fell victim to rounds of transfers and shifts that weren’t suited to training and matches but he took an awful lot of satisfaction from the job.
“I looked forward to going in every day because it was always evolving, no two days were the same,” he said.
When he came to Shannon, the garda station wasn’t in the centre of town, something he didn’t feel was very suitable. “The station was in the industrial estate and really it didn’t serve the needs of the community because it was so remote. It was quiet and uneventful and Shannon by and large was a peaceful, law-abiding place.”
He has one extremely sad memory from his career. “The biggest shock I got was the death of Geraldine Kissane in October of 2001. On that particular occasion, her brother (Adrian) rang me from alongside where his sister lay and the assailant in that case would have taken his own life. It was one of the most shocking experiences I had in policing. I’m still in contact with that family, particularly Adrian, and they’re just brilliant people.”
He feels gardaí should very much be a part of the community and is disappointed that some isolate themselves. “From an approach to a policing point of view, on a personal level I think too many gardaí choose to live in a self-contained universe of their own making and they’ve become estranged from the ordinary people as they rely more and more on their own colleagues for succour and support. I just found the older guards would have been more outgoing, in that they took part in the football scene and all of that. They seemed to be more willing to integrate with the public and had no difficulty in doing so.”
Gardaí have typically had short periods working in Shannon and it’s something that Joe feels has been a disadvantage to local policing. “One of the problems for Shannon is that it became a station of transience, in that you had such a continuous changeover of membership of the local gardaí. That, in itself, long term is a bad idea. You need to have a stable and consistent personnel at local level, people who have an interest in the well-being of the town and it’s always been a difficulty but it has stabilised now because people from Limerick, who are within striking distance of Shannon, have taken up positions here and are committed to the job and hopefully they’ll stay here.”
The town does offer a good quality of life and isn’t too hard to be a guard in, he adds. “It was easy police Shannon in the sense that you had only one nightclub and it was always particularly well managed. Shannon has people from all 32 counties and something like 130 nationalities. When you put that all together, Shannon is a hell of a good area to live in.”
In latter years he worked on the enforcement of court orders and developed some interesting views. “That was difficult because people were being imprisoned for non-payment of fines. Some people were quite happy to be imprisoned rather than pay fines and that’s something you wouldn’t have seen 30 odd years ago.
“When I reflect on it and saw maybe a single parent or a separated woman going to jail for the non-payment of a TV licence, there was a certain irony in that. That TV licence money was going to subsidise the very high earners in RTÉ, some of whom would describe themselves as social commentators of a type. Joe Duffy might consider himself to be nearly the Minister for Public Safety but what hasn’t been discussed at all is people going to jail for non-payment of licences to subsidise these inordinate salaries.”
He is of the view that gardaí should be well presented, while he also feels the oath that is taken in court may as well be done away with at this stage, as people break it with no fear of a perjury prosecution.
While he doesn’t feel the gardaí should be immune from scrutiny or criticism, he feels the sacrifices made by members of the force should never be forgotten. “Constructive criticism of the gardaí is always welcome but it should be constructive. People should remember that a lot of guards who went to work were killed in their line of duty, it should never be forgotten,” he concluded.