Some months ago I read a book which disturbed me. It had first attracted my attention with a cover photograph which showed unoccupied and windowless tenement flats under the title “A Shattered Dream”.
The author is John Scully who, in the opening page, tells us that he was born in Athy on May 2nd, 1937. He lived with his parents, four sisters and one brother in a county council house consisting of a living room and two bedrooms. There was no running water, no toilet and no electricity.
Despite the apparent deprivation, his childhood was happy. His parents loved the town of Athy where they were born, lived out their lives and eventually died. John left the local Christian Brothers School in Athy at 14 years of age without any adequate education or a trade.
The first discordant note is struck when he declares that in his school the teachers were interested only in teaching the six pupils who were regarded as the cream of the class.
At 16 he got his first job as a farm labourer. His work was somewhat seasonal and offered no prospect for the future. Nevertheless, like his parents he loved his home town of Athy. In 1953, realising the hopelessness of his position, he emigrated to England, ambitious to realise his dream of sometime opening his own shop.
As he states in his book “I realised more and more that there was no future for me in Athy so I headed for the boat and sailed away to a new life in England. I know I was going against my parents’ wishes in doing so but I also knew that there was no other way of bettering myself.”
How often those same sentiments have been expressed by young men and women from Athy, forced by circumstances to leave the town they loved to earn a decent living.
John’s story continued with his life in England, his marriage to Barbara from Connemara in February 1970 and the Scully family’s eventual return to Ireland in 1972. At last he was about to realise his dream of owning his own shop. The location of that shop, in what he euphemistically describes as “a rough area of Dublin” was to unlease a chain of events which makes disturbing reading, as John recounted what happened from then until 1991.
Threatened, harassed and assaulted by local hooligans, John and his family failed to receive the protection and reassurance which one would expect of the local gardai.
Indeed the book recounts a litany of complaints alleging intimidation, wrongful arrest and false charges, which continued for the next 19 years as John Scully’s dream disintegrated. No less than 26 incidents involving the gardai are told with candour but the harrowing story is one which leaves its mark on the questioning reader.
John, who now lives with his family in Jobestown, Co. Dublin, has seen his dream shattered, hence the title of the book. In recounting his experience with authority he has penned a story which should be read by everyone, especially those people who are charged with guarding the peace. The Garda Siochana have a proud and honourable tradition of service. Nevertheless, in any large group of men and women, one must inevitably come across the few whose behaviour and abuse of authority reflects badly on the entire body.
The story of John Scully would appear to be a blot on the record of the Garda Siochana and one which, unfortunately, has remained largely unnoticed. The Athy man has written of matters which concern us all, particularly at this time when there are demands for increased policing powers.
No doubt the breakdown in discipline in society generally has fuelled this demand but regrettably, in the attempt to deal with crime, the very fine balance between individual freedom and police power has been tipped more and more against the individual.
The recent Criminal Justice Public Order Act is an example of legislation giving wide powers to the gardai which I fear are somewhat draconian and open to abuse.
John Scully’s book should be read without necessarily accepting the strength of every claim or allegation it makes. After all, this is only one side of the story but what it relates to deserves a wider readership and a realisation, by those in authority, that we all have hopes and aspirations which can be so easily destroyed by excessive or inconsiderate exercise of powers which are designed to protect the individual in society.