By Brian Brennan
May 28, 2016
It’s hard to tell from the raw television footage if the shaven-headed protester posed any real danger to the Irish and British dignitaries gathered at a Dublin military cemetery this week to honour British soldiers killed during the 1916 Irish rebellion against British rule.
But clearly the Canadian ambassador, Kevin Vickers, felt there was a threat. He made a beeline for the shouting protester, grabbed him by the sleeves of his leather jacket, marched him away from the podium and turned him over to police, who led the man away in handcuffs. The protester, Brian Murphy, was later identified as a republican sympathizer who disrupted the remembrance ceremony to draw attention to the case of two Northern Ireland men convicted and sentenced to life in the 2009 slaying of a Northern Ireland police constable. Their supporters claim the men were wrongly convicted. Murphy has now been criminally charged with a public order offence.
If Vickers had still been the sergeant-of-arms of Canada’s House of Commons, a position he held before being appointed ambassador to Ireland in 2015, his instinctive reaction at the Dublin ceremony would have earned him praise. A former Mountie, he was hailed as a national hero in 2014 when he helped take down a gunman who had stormed Parliament after killing a sentry at the nearby National War Memorial.
But was his action in Dublin appropriate for a diplomat? The people at the Canadian embassy in Ireland aren’t saying and Prime Minister Trudeau, at the G7 conference in Japan, says he has no comment pending a full briefing on the incident. The Irish government hasn’t commented either.
My inclination is to give Vickers the benefit of the doubt. He saw Murphy emerge from the seats set aside for invited guests (he wangled an invitation by claiming to be a relative of someone buried in the cemetery) and walk toward the ceremonial guard, brandishing a document and shouting “this is an insult … a disgrace.” No security person, soldier or police officer moved in to stop him. That’s when Vickers, with his raincoat flapping, rushed into action. Undoubtedly his police training kicked in.
Why would Vickers have felt Murphy posed a threat? Probably because the remembrance ceremony was being held at a time of heightened security in Ireland. Security forces in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland expressed concern earlier this month about increasing violence by dissident republicans linked to a group calling itself “the new IRA.” British intelligence raised the alert level for a Northern Irish terrorist attack from “moderate” to “substantial.” The remembrance ceremony, boycotted by the Irish republican political party Sinn Féin, was expected to generate controversy because it celebrated what Sinn Féin called “the enemy of the Irish.”
Canadians on social media say Vickers had no right to do what he did: interfere with a “peaceful” Irish protester on Irish soil. Maintaining civil order in Ireland is the job of the Irish authorities, they say. What would Canadians say if China’s ambassador were to take on a Tibetan protester in Ottawa?
I say that Vickers was right to do what he felt was right. He wasn’t acting as a diplomat in this instance. He was acting as someone who has stared violence in the face and didn’t flinch. In the absence of any action on the part of the security forces present, he tackled Murphy and held on to his sleeves to prevent him from grabbing any possible concealed weapon.
“I engaged the suspect and the suspect is deceased,” he said after the armed attack on Parliament in 2014. This week he engaged a suspect and the suspect is now charged. For that, Kevin Vickers deserves our respect.
Copyright Brian Brennan 2016
You might also wish to read this story:
Remembering the Pillar. By Brian Brennan
A century ago, on April 29, 1916, the Irish Republic ended its brief existence with an unconditional surrender. Though successfully thwarted, it set off a series of events that led to the outbreak of an Irish war of independence between 1919 and 1921. Brian Brennan writes about his experience of Ireland’s independence movement halfway between then, and now.
Canadian ambassador Kevin Vickers tackles protester at Easter Rising event in Dublin, BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36390617
Wikipedia page for Kevin Vickers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Vickers
Twitter thread on Kevin Vickers: https://twitter.com/search?q=Kevin%20Vickers&src=typd&lang=pl
Brian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.
Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca
Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.
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