January 24, 2009

Grime, ink

I'm wet, miserable and under pressure. The ditch water laps over the top of my shoes and seeps into my socks. The vomit coloured mud attacks the hem of my suit trousers. The ice cold wind seeks out even the slightest bit of exposed flesh. Fuck.
But at least I'm not alone. There are three snappers and a cameraman with me. We're all in the shit together.
And shit there was. Along with a used nappy, empty beer cans, only God knows what household waste - even a Christmas tree that looks as if someone tried to bury it at sea. Behind me to my right, is a burned out motorcycle. To its right, about 100 feet away up a slight rise, lie the remains of a torched car. "Jesus Christ. Is it just me or this place a fucking hole?" one of the photographers asks as he tries to keep himself warm and dry - and get a decent shot at the same time. For anyone who thinks crime reporting is glamorous, this photograph should set them straight pretty quickly...

(© The Irish Daily Star)

It was taken by my colleague Jean Curran last Tuesday morning near the scene of the gun homicide of Stephen O'Halloran in Tallaght late the previous night. He was sitting with two friends in his 97D Renault Megane, parked outside his mother's house on Kilmartin Drive.
It was just before midnight when they came for him. Two men walked up to the car, pulled out a Glock each, and started firing.
O'Halloran was hit several times - the fatal one going in through the neck and ricocheting around his chest. The two young men with him were both hit, but they survived. It barely made the headlines for a day: fewer than 24 hours later another criminal, Graham McNally, was shot six times in the face and dumped on the Ashbourne Road. He was mentioned, without being named, in my previous blog last week: he's a sidekick of The Gangster. He was with him when other criminals tried to kill them. He survived that, but a week later was killed.
We got to Tallaght at around 10am, 10 hours after O'Halloran was shot. The Garda cordon around the murder scene was already well established. White and blue tape, pushed to the limit by the wind, still did its job and stopped us getting anywhere near the spot where the shooting happened. The best shot we could get was on the opposite side of the green. But it was about 300 yards away, and even then we didn't have a straight line of vision: the shooting happened at the end of the cul de sac. We could see nothing. Zilch. Diddly squat.
But there's always a plan B. And that's where the photographers come in.
Snappers really do get the short end of the stick. We indolent hacks can stand around, talk crap to each other, try to speak to a few neighbours, then wander back to our cars and turn the heat on to thaw out. But they can't leave the scene. They are the first media to arrive and the last to leave - long after we've got our angle and disappeared. They have to stay to get the State Pathologist going in and the body coming out.
If the shit really hits the fan, we can subtly put our notebooks in our pockets, pretend not to be there and melt into the background. But with a 300mm lens stuck on the end of his camera, there is nowhere for a picture artist to hide. Not that they would. I'm constantly amazed by their resolve, even in the most dangerous situations. Nothing matters but that which they see in the viewfinder of their camera. The poor fuckers don't even get bylines.
But they are, in essence, shit magnets.
Wherever they go, trouble is usually waiting. Outraged family members, angry friends, weirdo busybodies. They all see a snapper about the place and lose the head. And many of these punters seem to have strange sexual habits as well, judging by the number of times I've seen someone tell a photographer that he would really like to stick that camera up his arse. Whatever turns you on, I suppose.
I'm constantly amazed by the number of reporters who leave their snapper colleagues to their own devices. There are countless stories of reporters simply abandoning their photographer colleagues, friends even, when trouble erupts. I try to stick with the snapper as much as possible. When they're in trouble they need somebody with them, even if it's only for moral support. At gangland funerals, for example, I'll stand right beside the photographer just in case - most other hacks would choose to sit in their car, anonymous and safe. Not that I'd be any good in a fight, but at least they might think twice if there are two of us.
That's why I ended up in that sodden field behind the murder scene in Tallaght on Tuesday morning. We're all in this together. If they have to walk through the mud, so do we. One of the snappers realised that there was a field behind the murder scene that might give a better chance of a picture. So we all slogged together through the watery field until we came to a 10 foot high wall, behind which was the murder street. Luckily, someone had decided a ladder was surplus to requirements and abandoned it in the field. The snappers used it to climb up to the top of the wall and snap the gardai and murder scene around 100 yards away. I stood there getting very wet and very depressed.
In the end, we got some good photographs and the trek through the shit was worth it. The wet feet and dirty shoes are forgotten about in a couple of hours. What really lingers, however, is the murder of Stephen O'Halloran and what it says about Gangland Ireland today. You don't have to be a mobster to be targeted by the Glock-lovers. All you have to do is cross the wrong people.
He wasn't a big fish - he probably wasn't even a drug dealer. He was a thug. What the gardai call a gouger. Nothing more. He broke a woman's jaw; he left a neighbour needing rehab after a row about a dog; he assaulted four people when he burgled their house; he liked throwing his weight around and was quick to use his fists against anyone who crossed him.
But, obviously, he picked on the wrong person, somewhere along the line.
That person served up his revenge on a cold Monday night.


  1. This is a terrific read, Michael. Keep up the good work. I love the background you're giving this, expanding on what's possible to print in the paper.

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