Thursday 22 March 2018

Obituary: Larry Wren

Straight-dealing former Garda Commissioner who oversaw phone tapping scandal

Disciplinarian: Larry Wren took a tough stance on the policing of drink-driving cases
Disciplinarian: Larry Wren took a tough stance on the policing of drink-driving cases
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Lawrence 'Larry' Wren, who has died at the age of 93, was what has been described as "an accidental" Garda Commissioner during a turbulent period between the subversive threat to the State from the IRA and the tapping of telephones during the Haughey administration of the 1980s.

Known as a disciplinarian, Wren was not particularly popular in the force, but that was something that did not concern him unduly.

Born in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, in 1922, he attended St Ita's College in the town. He joined the gardai in 1943 almost straight from school and rose through the ranks, mostly in Munster until his appointment as Chief Superintendent in 1969 brought him to Garda Headquarters in Dublin as head of C3, the garda intelligence branch. By then he had gained wide operational experience. He was described as having "a clear, incisive mind and a reputation for straight dealing" by outside observers.

He was in charge of the garda operation surrounding the kidnapping of Dutch industrialist Tiede Herrema by IRA desperados Eddie Gallagher and Marion Coyle and the subsequent siege of a house in Monesterevin, Co Kildare, in 1975. It was a risky and dangerous situation, but Herrema survived the ordeal after an 18-day stand-off.

He was promoted to Assistant Garda Commissioner in 1977 and Deputy Commissioner the following year. Because of his independence, he was not regarded as "friendly" to the administration of Charles J Haughey. This was copper-fastened when he insisted on a thorough investigation into allegations that Pat O'Connor, Mr Haughey's solicitor and friend in Malahide, had voted twice during the June 1981 election.

He was the senior Assistant Commissioner under Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin but, according to reports, was "virtually ostracised", his role being superseded by Deputy Commissioner Joe Ainsworth. Despite this, he was involved at a personal level when Ben Dunne, son of Dunnes Stores founder Ben Dunne Snr, was kidnapped by the IRA, and was later involved in the Don Tidey kidnapping.

In 1983, with the change of administration, the new justice minister in the Fine Gael/Labour coalition, Michael Noonan, learned from files in the Department of Justice that McLaughlin and Ainsworth had authorised the illegal tapping of journalists' telephones (on the instructions of Minister for Justice Sean Doherty). After threatening to sack them, the two men resigned on June 20, 1983.

Although others had been groomed for the position, Larry Wren was then appointed Garda Commissioner on February 1, a post he held until 1987. He was regarded as "abrasive and Spartan". He drove the family car from his home in Castleknock, Co Dublin, to garda headquarters, only using his official vehicle on garda business.

One of his first acts as Commissioner was to introduce clear protocols for drunk driving. Each arrest had to be filed with the commissioner's office so that subsequent prosecutions, or lack of them, could be traced. As a result, the 'fixing' of such cases by various ranks became far more difficult.

He also astonished his senior officers by telling them during a meeting to spend less time on the golf course and more time doing their jobs. It was known among colleagues that he left his office at 12.55pm each day to go home to Castleknock for his dinner and by the time he arrived back at 2pm some had used the opportunity to go racing or play golf.

He was a devout Catholic, attending Mass almost daily in St Brigid's Church, Blanchardstown. He was a member of the 3rd Order of St Frances, led the Garda Pilgrimage to Lourdes and was president of the North Dublin Conference of the St Vincent De Paul.

Larry Wren died at his home on Thursday and is survived by his wife Maureen and two daughters. His funeral takes place tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

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