News Editorial

Monday 22 September 2014

Rot from the top that ripped the heart out of the gardai

Published 01/08/2004 | 00:11

  • Share

RETIRED Garda sergeant Tom Tully is the epitome of the "straight cop". He joined the Garda in 1955 and served the first 22 years of his service in the Louth-Meath Division which, to this day, he describes as the "premier division".

  • Share
  • Go To

There were no scandals in Louth-Meath. He talks of how gardai competed to outdo each other in their work and pride of appearance.

"Your eight hours on duty flew by. One unit was trying to do better than the other. You were busy doing your work not looking over your shoulder at politicians.

There is something about being in the Garda. To be a good garda it has to be a vocation.

"You have to take pride in yourself and the job. In some cases the gardai let themselves go and the pride disappears. They are not suited for the gardai and not happy in the job."

He recalled a senior officer, whose nickname was The Horse. "Everything hummed when he was there. He was a bachelor and always on the ball.

"You would never allow yourself to be looked down at. If you were off duty you behaved yourself. A garda would never be seen staggering in the street after a drink." Sitting in the living room of his bungalow outside Roosky, he produces his Garda discharge book with his number 7117. Under the heading: General conduct during service, it records the word: "Exemplary".

He served from November 9, 1955 to November 9, 1985, exactly 30 years, when a garda is entitled to full pension.

While he was stationed in Louth he was concerned about his mother, Delia, who lived alone and in poor health on the family farm at Roosky, Co Roscommon.

He was told of a vacancy for a station sergeant in Boyle, applied for the job and was accepted. He moved his wife and two young children but tragedy struck when their six-year-old son died from a heart illness.

At work, Tully was shocked at what he saw in Boyle Garda Station. Morale had collapsed; so had management. Records were not being kept. The station was unkempt and often unmanned.

Boyle station was supposed to be open 24-hours a day but he arrived one morning to find it closed and after ringing the bell was eventually admitted by a garda in pyjamas, looking the worse for wear.

He described one garda as a "pure waster", a man who had eight disciplinary charges against him, including neglect of duty, but who seemed to be immune to prosecution. One evening, when the garda was on duty he found him drinking pints in a local pub. In any other circumstances he would have been dismissed.

The lax practices in Boyle were alien to what Tully had experienced in his previous 23 years in Louth-Meath. "It was like coming from heaven to hell," he recalls.

Tully also recalls political influence, and particularly the corrupt system of "squaring".

Squaring is when politicians or gardai are petitioned by people to have charges dropped. It was a widespread and well-known practice in some rural divisions where minor charges were dropped as part of a grace and favour system of politically controlled policing.

Many gardai in Boyle and around the country found that some of their charges were being squared. Unable to do their jobs and humiliated by seeing their charges quashed, some gardai lost faith in themselves.

The clearest manifestation of lax practices was the way that local pubs could stay open all hours of the day and night.

Remarkably, within a couple of years of his arrival, the local Fianna Fail TD, Sean Doherty, was to become Minister for Justice. But there were no improvements in his own backyard.

Tully, now 70 and still living at the family home in Roosky, remembered one of the first times he encountered squaring.

"I was on patrol one night in the patrol car with two gardai. We met this car being driven dangerously at Knockivar. The driver (a local woman who was driving her boyfriend's car) was arrested and breathalysed for drunkdriving.

"A politician rang the station that night and made 'He arrived one morning to find the station closed and after ringing the bell was eventually admitted by a garda in pyjamas, looking the worse for wear'

inquiries about the woman (who worked for a local Fianna Fail councillor) and he was told I was on. He said: 'Tom is sound'."

The next action in prosecuting the woman for drunk and dangerous driving would have involved posting off her urine sample for analysis. "The sample was not posted," he said.

Tully could have lapsed into the corrupt torpor that surrounded him but he chose not to. He stood up to it.

He took on the problem of after-hours drinking. At 2.20am on the morning of February 6, 1982 a Garda raid on Keany's Pub in Boyle found 11 people drinking. Their names were taken and summonses issued. A month later the summonses were dropped.

Tully lodged a protest with his superiors and took further action. In the early morning of May 30, he led a raid on the same pub and again caught customers with drink. Action was taken this time, but not against the publican or his after-hours drinkers.

Two weeks later, Tully was told that he was being transferred to the border station of Ballyconnell, over 40 miles from his home, his young wife and two children and his ailing mother. He appealed against the transfer stating: "I have no doubt that I am the victim of a vicious piece of victimisation."

He produced a dossier showing how a succession of charges and summonses in Boyle had been squared. He added: "Interference from the Minister for Justice's office takes place in this district, in most cases detected by the gardai."

Tully's case was taken up by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) who succeeded in stopping the transfer.

Tully was allowed to serve out his remaining five years in Boyle. He refers to the then Secretary of AGSI as one of the "men of integrity" in the Garda who supported him in his fight against corrupt practices.

The case was exposed by the Sunday Independent and, in the process, began a train of events that was to drag the Garda into the worst controversy in its history.

Another case that collapsed was against Charles Haughey's election agent, Pat O'Connor. He was charged with double voting in the general election but the case was thrown out on a "technicality".

Affairs took on a cross-border dimension in September 1982 when a Co Fermanagh man, James McGovern, was arrested by the RUC Special Branch just hours before he was due to appear as a witness in an assault case at Dowra District Court in Co Cavan.

The man that McGovern was due to give evidence against was Garda Thomas Nangle, a brother-in-law of the Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty.

As Mr McGovern, who had no connections with any political or terrorist organisation, was being held by the RUC the case against Thomas Nangle was dismissed. The RUC had arrested Mr McGovern onthe basis of entirelyfalse Garda intelligence that he was involved interrorism.

Journalists who reported on these and other political controversies at the time had their phones bugged by the Garda Crime and Security Branch in Phoenix Park.

The events that had started when Sgt Tully had stood up against the corruption in Boyle District opened the floodgates that revealed the extent to which the Garda had been corrupted by the political system, and how Garda management had been too weak to stop the rot.

The results were far reaching. Fianna Fail was voted out of Government in the December 1982 general election and the party split, with Des O'Malley founding the Progressive Democrats. Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin and his deputy Joe Ainsworth resigned, after it emerged that bugging equipment had been supplied to the then Fianna Fail minister, Ray MacSharry, to record political conversations.

Reflecting on these tumultuous events, and the more recent revelations in Donegal, Tom Tully observes that few people seemed to have paid heed to the lessons of what happened in 1982.

Speaking publicly about it for the first time, he points out that many of the same factors that contributed to the massive scandal of 1982 were at play in Donegal.

"It all goes back to politics. If there is some garda facing discipline he gets on to his TD, who gets on to his chief superintendent or maybe a commissioner or whoever is dealing with the particular case. Then when gardai see these other gardai getting away with murder, they too fall in line with what is going on."

He cites two cases of gardai who were convicted of criminal offences but who were able, apparently, to use political connections to keep their jobs.

Then there is the system of "political promotion", what gardai describe as patronage and nepotism where some "connected" gardai are certain of promotion despite lack of ability.

He said Neil Blaney, the former Fianna Fail minister and independent TD who died in 1996, "was particularly to blame for what happenedin Donegal" because hehad retained sufficient political power to interfere repeatedly in Garda affairs in the county.

The result of all this, Tom Tully said, is a lowering of morale throughout the force. Gardai with low self-esteem, he said, often turn to drink.

"Some of the finest fellows" have been affected by alcoholism. "A lot of fellows are not happy in the job - the job is a burden more than anything else. When they finish work they need it for release."

The system of temporarily posting officers on promotion to rural divisions, particularly in the northwest, was a clear source of the breakdown in both management control and accountability.

This was a system that continued after 1982 and even worsened - he cited one example of a division that had eight different superintendents in as many years.

Tully welcomes proposals for an independent Garda Ombudsman - something which many people think gardai are generically opposed to. "If the Ombudsman system was working, there would have been no Donegal," he says.

Jim Cusack

Read More

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice