Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Why didn't GSOC pick up the phone and tell him?'

Mick Galvin was proud to be a Garda sergeant, but feared his reputation would be destroyed, writes Greg Harkin

Gda Sgt Galvin’s funeral in Manorhamilton
Gda Sgt Galvin’s funeral in Manorhamilton

Greg Harkin

Sergeant Mick Galvin was the consummate professional to the end.

On the evening of Wednesday May 27, just hours before he took his own life, the 48-year-old father-of-three met with the organisers of last weekend's Ballyshannon Rory Gallagher Festival to sign off final arrangements.

He assured them that everything was in order.

"Have a great time," he had said, "it's all in order."

A few hours later Sgt Galvin was dead; he'd taken his own life.

Within hours, it became clear that the well-liked officer had been the subject of an investigation by the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) and that he had been hiding deep distress.

His death sent shockwaves through An Garda Siochana, particularly in Donegal where he was based, in Leitrim where he lived and in his native Sligo where he had once been captain of the county hurling and football teams.

As coach he led Sligo to the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2008.

He was a legend in Manorhamilton too, where he lived with his wife and contributed so much to gaelic games, leading the local Cluainin Iomaint club to its first senior hurling title in 53 years in 2012. He also managed the Manor intermediate football team. His death rocked several North-West communities to the core.

Mourners queued for hours at his wake and hardened gardai wept.

Last Sunday his funeral mass was held at the Church of St Claire in Manorhamilton.

Donegal Democrat reporter Matt Britton said: "There were at least 2,500 people there, more outside than inside and hundreds and hundreds of uniformed gardai, many of them clearly distressed. It was a garda funeral with full honours".

When Mick's wife Collette went on to the altar to speak, you could hear a pin drop.

She said she had met Mick at a nightclub when he was captain of both Sligo's hurling and football teams. "He was my Roy Keane," she said.

Then she delivered the words which would spark a crisis at GSOC.

"I often asked him which of his achievements he was most proud of and he always pointed to our three children," said Collette.

"He gave his life to the job and I hope that after today all decent and honest members of An Garda Siochana will be allowed to do their jobs without horrendous and unnecessary investigations by GSOC."

A spontaneous three-minute standing ovation followed. Mick Galvin had been questioned under caution by GSOC 11 days earlier, on May 20.

He told his wife later that he feared he was going to go to prison over an investigation GSOC had launched into the road traffic death of pedestrian Sheena Stewart (33) in the early hours of New Year's Day.

But one question remained after Mick Galvin's death - had he done anything wrong?

Last Monday, June 1 at 3.24pm, I got to ask that question. I spoke to Lorna Lee, press officer for GSOC, about the status of the investigation. I was flabbergasted by the response.

The Ombudsman's office, she said, was unhappy with a report in a tabloid newspaper which stated Sgt Galvin was facing charges and/or disciplinary action.

"We thought about issuing a [correcting] statement but decided against it," she said.

So what was the situation?

A decision had been taken already, she said. There was to be no further action, no prosecution, not even a minor disciplinary offence.

"This decision was reached 10 days ago but a letter confirming this (to Sgt Galvin) had not been issued," said the GSOC spokeswoman.

Ten days ago. That was May 22. That was two days after the cautioned interview.

That meant Sgt Galvin had taken his own life in the early hours of May 28 not knowing he had been cleared.

I spoke to Sgt Galvin's garda colleagues. It was important that they knew - and more important that the Galvin family knew - that he had been cleared.

At 9.02pm Ms Lee rang me again. Gardai had contacted her, she said, and she wanted to make it clear that she had never used the word 'discontinued' during her conversation with me. I did not dispute that.

She said she also wanted to "clarify" her remarks in relation to "10 days ago". This was when the cautioned interview had taken place, she said (in fact at the time I was speaking to her it was 12 days previously).

The GSOC finding had been concluded, she said, "a few days later, early last week".

So now Sgt Galvin had been cleared on either Monday, May 25 or Tuesday May 26. The Ombudsman would later say it was Wednesday May 27 - the day of Sgt Galvin's final shift; the day he was concerned that the Rory Gallagher Festival would pass off without incident.

He died overnight, not knowing all that he held dear would have still been his; his wife, his three children, the job he loved - and his football and his hurling.

It was an appalling and tragic end to an exemplary man who gave his all to his family and communities in three counties.

Last Friday as Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan arrived at Ballyshannon Garda Station to meet bereaved colleagues, sergeants and inspectors from the AGSI stood in silence in memory of Mick Galvin.

They all had just one question: "Why didn't someone just pick up the phone, why didn't someone tell him he had been totally exonerated?

As his friend Sgt Paul Wallace put it: "This can never be allowed to happen again. Never."

Sunday Independent

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