How they got rid of Commissioner Ed Garvey

The inside story on the sacking of the Garda Commissioner and the Phoenix Park horrors.


SECRET GARDA surveillance was placed on the Director of Public Proosecutions, Eamonn Barnes, in one of the most bizarre operations carried out by members of the force during the regime of the dismissed Commissioner, Edmund Garvey. This surveillance is the most extraordinary example yet uncovered of the atmosphere of disstrust and suspicion created by the Coalition Government's security policy.

The present Government was aware of this particular covert operation when it decided to sack Garvey. But Fianna Fail was probably more conncerned about information it had reeceived that senior officials of the Taoiseach's Department were also under surveillance. These instances of the paranoia which pervaded the security forces meant that the Government could not have full confidence in Garvey and had no alternative but to sack him.

Gardai themselves were so conncerned about surveillance that at one stage leaders of the representative bodies actually had an engineer check their offices for electronic bugs. While no bugging equipment was found at the time, the gardai involved remained convinced that their movements were being watched by other members of the force - on orders from Garvey.

Relations between. the Commissioner and the representative bodies had reached their nadir by the summer of 1976, less than one year after Garvey had been appointed by the Coalition Government. The Garda management and the rank and file were in conflict over issues such as harsh discipline, unfair transfers and irregular promootions. The representative bodies were also concerned about the way the force was being deployed in the fight against crime, and an editorial in the Garda Review in June criticised the then Minister for Justice, Patrick Cooney, for his security policies. 'He is evidently not being told all he should by the people around him', the editorial stated at one point, in a thinly-veiled reference to the Commmissioner.

Garvey was more than just annoyed at this criticism of himself, and his political masters. He felt so strongly about it that he decided the members of the editorial board of the Garda Review should be prosecuted for sedition in the Special Criminial Court.

It must be assumed that the Commisssioner appreciated the likely repercusssions of such prosecutions within the force and the public controversy that would ensue. But he went ahead with this extraordinary course of action by seeking the co-operation of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

By-passing the normal channels of communications with the DPP's office, Garvey sent three high-ranking officers to see Barnes. They were led by Chief Superintendent John J. Doddy of C3, the security section of Garda Headquarters. They told Eamonn Barnes that the Commissioner wanted him to prosecute the five gardai on the editorrial board of the Garda Review, under both the Official Secrets Act and the Offences against the State Act in the Special Criminal Court. The gardai were the chairman of the Garda Representative Body, Jim Fitzgerald, its general secretary, Garda Jack Marriinan, and his assistant, Garda Mick Conway; also the chairman of the Representative Body for Inspectors and Sergeants, Inspector Patrick Culliigan, and its general secretary, Sergeant Derek Nally.

Garvey's emissaries showed Barnes the editorial from the June issue of the Review on which the prosecutions were to be based. On reading it, his reaction was simple and direct: he laughed in their faces - much to the relief of at least one of them. They asked what they would tell the Commisssioner and were told by Barnes that his answer should be apparent from his reaction but they could have his refusal to prosecute in writing if they wished.

It was after his refusal to co-operate in prosecuting the five Garda leaders that Eamonn Barnes was placed under surveillance. A special watch was put on his movements without his knowledge. It is not clear if the surrveillance included tapping his phone, which would have needed the authoriisation of the Minister for Justice, Patrick Cooney.

When he was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions in January 1975, Barnes was given an official Garda driver but not round-the-clock protection at his home. It was not until the spring of last year that he was provided with a 24-hour guard.

Of all the people that the Gardai might consider necessary to keep under surrveillance, Eamonn Barnes is probably the least likely candidate. He was a lawyer working as a career civil serrvant in the Attorney General's office when picked by the Coalition Governnment to serve as the first Director of Public Prosecutions.

The office was established by the Coalition - mainly through the efforts of the then Attorney-General, Declan Costello - to separate criminal proosecutions from the Gardai and the Government to ensure that prosecuutions would be protected from any improper pressure from either side.

The DPP decides independently whether prosecutions should be taken on the basis of evidence prepared by the gardai. Barnes has successfully protected the considerable indepenndence given to his office by the Cooalition, although he angered the former Government on a number of occasions. The most notable was the prosecuution of the armed SAS men who crossed the border into Co Louth - the Cooalition was severly embarrassed by that case, but Barnes successfully resisted pressure to drop it. Despite his periodic conflicts with the Coalition, there is no suggestion that there were any legittimate reasons for placing Barnes under surveillance.

The five gardai from the Garda Review, along with four other leaders of the representative bodies, were also put under Special Branch surveillance. Regular reports on their conduct and activities were furnished to the Commissioner's office.

The attempt to prosecute the Review editors and the surveillance on reepresentative body leaders, showed the intensity of the conflict between the Commissioner and the leaders of the rank and file gardai. It is no surprise then that this conflict should have culminated with leaders of the representative bodies demanding Garrvey's dismissal.

The garda leaders marshalled their case in two documents presented to the Minister for Justice, Gerry Collins, before Christmas. They cited at least 12 specific reasons why Garvey should be asked to' resign or be dismissed, inncluding the attempt to prosecute them.

Both lists began with probably the most telling cases, from a Government's point of view. They showed that Garvey had misled the Coalition on two seeparate occasions, in connection with the fingerprint affair and in an order to gardai to issue a minimum of 200 summonses a year. If Garvey had acted like that in relation to the Government which had appointed him, could Fianna Fail have full confidence in him when it was already an open secret that reelations between Garvey and the new Government were strained?

Relations between Collins and Garrvey had got off to a bad start over the fingerprint irregularities. Garvey summmarily moved the four experts central to the dispute last August before the new Minister had an opportunity to decide what action he wanted to take. Collins was furious at the moves and, more importantly, two of the experts took their case to the DPP. Collins' hands were thus tied while Barnes decided whether or not to prosecute any garda experts. His deecision is expected shortly.

But the critical point in the fingerrprint affair, as far as Garvey's career was concerned, was his failure to inform the Coalition Government of a wrong identification of a suspect for the assassination of the British Ambassador. He had told the Governnment of an original identification, but did not correct it after it was proved to be wrong. Garvey knew of the innaccurate identification for about three months before the Coalition learned of it in a newspaper report last March.

The case of the 200 summonses was equally decisive. While this was the subject of controversy in the Dail during the Coalition's term, it is only last month that detailed confirmation of the central issues in the dispute became public.

On December 2nd, 1976, the Minisster for Justice, Patrick Cooney, told Gerry Collins in the Dail that Garvey had not issued instructions to members of the force to prosecute a specific number of summonses each year. Cooney insisted five times that he had been told by the Commissioner that no such instructions had been given.

The denials were a major surprise to many gardai, who had heard Garvey giving the instructions verbally on tours of inspection throughout the country. The Garda Representative Body commpiled a dossier of sworn statements from gardai who had heard Garvey giving the instruction and memos from divisional officers reminding gardai about it. If the demand for 200 summmonses from every member of the force was implemented, the public would have been showered -with 1 Y2 million summonses - one summons for every' two people in the country.

The Representative Body met Coooney a month after he had denied this instruction in the Dail and told him it had collated evidence to show that he had been 'mis-informed'. They did not get much satisfaction from the Minister, who stood by the information Garvey had given him.

The controversy might have ended there but for the fact that Cooney deeliberately intervened in a debate on the courts in the Dail, in April last year, to again deny that there had been an instruction. 'There is no substance whatsoever in that charge,' he stated unequivocally. Cooney's continued deenials in support of Garvey, in the face of contrary evidence offered to him by the Garda Representative Body, further exacerbated the strained reelations between the Minister and his Commissioner on the one hand, and the rank and file members of the force, on the other.

This affair convinced ordinary gardai that there was little point in making reasoned representations to the Coaliition about the running of the force. It is no surprise then that the vast majority of Gardai are said to have voted for Fianna Fail in the general election last June. While the effect of the garda vote on the result could not have been significant, it is certain that they used the opportunity of the change in Government to successsfully influence the Commissioner's removal.

Garvey's removal was inevitable once Fianna Fail returned to power; the only question was whether he would agree to his departure or would have to be pushed. But the reasons why he had to go originated during the Coalition's term in office.

Garvey had been promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner by the previous Fianna Fail Governnment. His reputation as a tough cop who got things done obviously impresssed the' Coalition and he was put in charge of C3, the section which cooordinates anti-subversive activities, after the Mountjoy helicopter escape in October 1974. In retrospect, that escape marked the end of the Cooalition's liberal phase and initiated its insistence on the importance of security above most other factors. Garvey's work as head of the antiisubversive forces brought him to the attention of Liam Cosgrave, a tough law and order man as well.

Garvey was the surprise successor to Patrick Malone when his appointtment as Commissioner was announced in July 1975. He was promoted over the heads of three more likely candiidates, including the man who has now succeeded him, Patrick McLaughlin.

Edmund Garvey took up office in September 1975 with two major issues facing him. The first was an innherited package of internal problems concerned with the force's bad organiisation; and included long-running dissputes over pay, conditions and disscipline. The second issue was the growing crime rate, with serious seecurity difficulties spreading from the North and intensified by the Coalition's growing insistence on its law and order policies.

Garvey, under pressure from the Coalition, concentrated on the security problems.' Liam Cosgrave's Government wanted results and Garvey, a man of action, concentrated most of his enerrgies on pursuing subversives. His initial successes were spectacular.

Within a month of his appointment, he faced his first major test when Eddie Gallagher and Marion Coyle kidnapped Tiede Herrema. The massive manhunt and the end to the siege at Monasterevin, earned Garvey the Government's thanks as well as interrnational praise for his handling of the case. However, the repeated assertion that no deal had been done with the kidnappers was less than honest.

His concentration on security left him with little time to tackle the more mundane issues. Inevitably, these issues grew in importance with Fianna Fail harping on the rise in minor crime and vandalism and growing frustration among rank and file gardai over the industrial relations within the force.

Garvey's response to unrest in the ranks was simply to impose stricter discipline. Gardai were penalised for minor breaches of regulations. One officer, for instance, was fined beecause his official overcoat was stolen from his car in the centre of Dublin. More and more gardai took their cases against punitive transfers and dismissals to the courts. Votes of no confidence in the Commissioner were passed by meetings of rank and file gardai. A vote of confidence in Garvey by officers above the rank of Superinntendent did nothing to halt the tide of unrest among the majority of gardai.

Caught between the Coalition's innsatiable requirement for greater and more effective security and the mounnting discontent within the ranks, Garvey could only try to meet the demands of one and keep the lid on the other. His relations with the rank and file had deteriorated beyond repair by the time Fianna Fail returned to power.

Fianna Fail made no secret of its dissastisfaction with Garvey. Official sources made it clear to the media last September that the Government would accept Garvey's resignation if it was offered. Unofficial approaches were made to Garvey through interrmediaries. Had Garvey acquiesced, Fianna Fail was prepared to make his removal as painless as possible and would have fixed the former Commmissioner up with a State sinecure.

But Garvey, consistent as always, rejected the overtures. He then made his attitude known publicly in an Evening Press interview in mid-January. He admitted that he was under pressure from the Government, rank and file gardai and from outside the force. But he reiterated that he intended to remain on as Commissioner until he reached retirement age in 1980 - if he was let.

It was the promotion's controversy that precipitated his firing; on the weekend prior to the event, Lynch and Collins agreed that a decision on the matter could be postponed no longer.

A~ the regular cabinet meeting on the Tuesday, notice was given of the intention to hold a special cabinet meeting on the Thursday morning to consider the issue. The Garvey affair had come up at Cabinet on several previous occasi'ons, but mainly under the heading of 'urgent communications'. However the Thurssday morning discussion was the first comprehensive formal consideration the Government had given to the matter.

Collins outlined the arguments for firing the Commissioner. Some ministers were initially sceptical of the wisdom of dismissing him too precipitously but when the whole saga of Collins' relationship with him over the previous six months was related, all were agreed on the need for immediate action.

The reason for the short notice of two hours was that the Governnment wished to ensure that no centroover'sy would flare up within the force on the matter and that critical inforrmation on the covert surveillance and other issues would be openly availlable to them.

The interview ended any hopes the Government had of coming to an amiicable arrangement with Garvey. Five days after it was published, Garvey was summoned to the Department of Justice arid, in the presence of the Department's secretary, Andy Ward, was told by Gerry Collins that he had two hours to resign or be removed from office.

Garvey returned to his office in garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park : after his brief meeting with Collins. The senior Deputy Commisssioner, Patrick G. McLoughlin, was not told he was to take temporary charge of the force until five hours later, after news of Garvey's dismissal had been released.

One' of Garvey's last official acts was, ironically, to appear before the o Briain committee set up by Fianna Fail to investigate safeguards for people in custody after Amnesty International had added its voice to reports of garda brutality. He appeared before the three-man committee on the morning of the day he was dismissed. At that stage, Department of Justice officials were already trying /:'0 contact him to summon him to an urgent meeting with the Minister.

The brutality allegations were also cited by the representative bodies in their submission to Collins on Garvey's future. The allegations, however, were just one more controversy in which Garvey had become embroiled.

All the factors - internal unrest, misleading the Coalition over fingerrprints and summonses, brutality, attemppted prosecutions of garda leaders `combined to make Fianna Fail's decision an easy choice. And, of course, all the strange goings-on had the political advantage for Fianna Fail of having taken place under the Coalition.

Commenting in the Dail on the Commissioner's dismissal, the Taoiiseach, Jack Lynch, faintly praised Garvey by commending his record prior to his appointment as Commisssioner and stating that his party had no objection to his promotion at the time. Lynch repeated the explana-tion that the Government had ceased to have full confidence in the former Commissioner but he steadfastly refused to elaborate on the reasons for the loss of confidence. It is now up to Garvey to decide if the matter should be pursued further; at the time of going to press he has given no notice of any definite legal action.

Fianna Fail left office in 1975 with a hard-line reputation on la wand order. The Coalition arrived as liberal reformers but soon earned an even tougher reputtation for exalting security above all other considerations. Fianna Fail is now back with Gerry Collins providing the face of liberal and humane administration of justice. The image has been maintained by simple measures which put no strain on the State's security, such as allowing the Gallagher-Dugdale wedding.

It remains to be seen whether Fianna Fail will avoid the pitfalls of placing security above all other considerations in future. The conflicts within the gardai, caused by the Coalition's demands, have focussed unusual attention on the interrnal activities of the force which are seen to be exceedingly strange in some instannces. But, as Inspector Ned Ryan told the Special Criminal Court under crosssexamination recently: 'A good garda officer does not let his right hand know what his left is doing.'.

Joe Joyce and Don Buckley have been writing about this topic since their first reports on garda brutality appeared in The Irish Times in February of last year.