Christmas is one of the busiest times of year for An Garda Síochána, a fact that many tend to forget, including our own government who made the decision to cancel Garda overtime this Christmas. Inevitably there is an increase in burglaries and a lot more people travelling on our roads and out socialising over the festive period, which leads to more crime and casualties.
Garda Damian White, 45, is from Clonakilty and stationed in Bandon. Damian looks on the bright side of being a Guard over Christmas, as well as giving some sound advice to the public on how to keep safe and out of trouble this year.
With two older brothers already in the job, Damian “caught the bug” and joined them as a member of An Garda Síochána in 1993.
He recalls how his first New Year’s Eve in the job was spent walking the beat on his own, in the snow, in Co. Monaghan, 260 miles away from home in West Cork. “I did wonder what I had let myself in for,” he says laughing.
Although of course it’s nicer being off work this time of year, Damian says there’s always a good buzz in the station, with everyone looking forward to Christmas and spending more time with family and friends. “Where possible we would try to make allowances for those with young children or far from home, but sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw,” he says. “We make the best of it. Being the job that it is, when you’re rostered to be on, that’s just the way it falls. It builds comaraderie though, as everyone pitches in. My first few Christmases working in the job, other older Gardaí invited me to their home for Christmas dinner. One year, I cooked dinner for 10 of us; it was no MasterChef effort, but no one got food poisoning at least!”
It’s also a time of year that many members of the public make their appreciation known. “We wouldn’t seek, or expect presents to be fair,” says Damian “but we do get cards from the public, and that appreciation is lovely. Small gestures can mean a great deal.”
Damian is off for Christmas this year, but is working over the New Year. Whatever his work hours, Damian and his wife try to maintain the focus on spending time together as a family, focusing Christmas around their children.
“Looking back, I think my parents always tried to keep Christmas as a real family time, with an emphasis on spending plenty of time together. My mother always had a great attention to detail for the traditional Christmas dinner. My father always ensured that there was a warm, blazing open fire on the go. There was always a focus on visiting the family graves, and placing a Christmas wreath on them, and that’s something that we still do; I think it’s important to maintain those traditions.
“The remainder of the working year can be so busy, it’s important to take a step back and catch up. My wife is from KerrSet featured imagey, so travelling to meet with her family there is always an important part of our Christmas. I have also inherited my father’s obsession with the warm fire, though we have a stove, as opposed to an open fire.”
A real people person, Damian loves his job in the community. “I enjoy meeting people, and being of help where possible. It’s important to focus on the positives, 99 per cent of people are excellent. It’s too easy to see the negatives. Pretty much all my work is community-related, covering from the cradle to the grave. My role allows me to interact with pre-schoolers all the way up to the elderly, and everyone in-between.
“I suppose we are present at the most traumatic of times for people and their families. You learn from experience, but of course we get affected by difficult cases; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. It’s about trying to manage your emotions. I try not to say something just to fill the gap, because I believe that in difficult times, silence can be very respectful and important. It’s not easy, because our human nature means we want to help people, or fix something; but recognising the hurt, and giving it a safe, respectful space is important.”
It can be a feast or a famine in the station on Christmas Day. “It could be anything, or maybe nothing,” says Damian. “We might never get a call, but we still have to be on duty, just in case. Family disputes and domestic problems will occur because people aren’t used to spending so much time in each other’s company – they get cabin fever. The Christmas period is so busy on a social level – when more people are out and it’s busy, more things will go wrong – so that makes for a busy time for us.”
Damian’s advice to the public over Christmas involves being responsible, planning and being extra careful.
“If you’re going out, try to be responsible when socialising, plan your night, and look out for your friends. Be careful with your valuables, others will take advantage of the busy season. Stay safe at home, keep your windows and doors secure, and don’t leave presents on display or unattended. Take care when travelling on the road, think safety first. Never, ever drink and drive. Always have a designated driver, or plan your way home.
“I would like to send best wishes to all West Cork People readers for a very Happy Christmas, a peaceful New Year, and to thank them for their assistance and cooperation this past year.”