Saturday 18 November 2017

Death of a hero: Beyond the call of duty

Tony Golden's murder took place against a backdrop of republican lawlessness and falling garda numbers, writes Maeve Sheehan

SACRIFICE: The coffin of Garda Anthony Golden is carried into St Oliver Plunkett Church, Blackrock
SACRIFICE: The coffin of Garda Anthony Golden is carried into St Oliver Plunkett Church, Blackrock
The grave of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe, who was murdered in Co Louth in 2013
Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Tony Golden was one of two gardai on duty in Omeath Garda Station when a young woman came in with her father, stepmother, aunt and brother last Sunday afternoon.

It was a quiet station. The village on the shores of Carlingford Lough is overlooked by the Cooley Mountains. It used to be a stage-coach town for cross-border terrorists and smugglers because of its proximity to the Border.

It is just six miles from Newry. Despite the peace process, the border counties remain bandit country, dangerous hinterlands where criminals align themselves into tribes of political factions armed with guns and trained in thieving, smuggling, laundering and bomb-making.

Siobhan Philips' case seemed more mundane, a case of prolonged domestic abuse that had culminated in a savage beating by her partner. She wanted to make a statement. Tony Golden took out a pen and started taking down her statement, a process that took more than an hour.

Siobhan is a hairdresser, 21 years old, from Newry. She had been going out with Adrian Crevan Mackin, a 24-year- old gun-obsessed delinquent from Newry, for around three years. They had two young children. He lived in a rented house in a quiet housing estate, Mullach Alainn, which you can see on the hill from the garda station, but their children did not live there.

Mackin was volatile, violent and in trouble with the law and on Friday night he had beaten Siobhan savagely over several hours. She was leaving him and he was furious. Out on bail on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation, he was weeks away from a possible jail sentence. He had it in for her and he had it in for her family, threatening to kill them all.

Siobhan applied a mask of make-up and went to work. But she was too terrified to go home. She phoned her stepmother, who was the catalyst for bringing the abuse she had suffered in silence to An Garda Siochana.

On Saturday evening, her family brought her to Dundalk Garda Station, where they were told by a garda on duty that they would have to make the statement in Omeath, where the attack on her had taken place. They brought her back to hospital, she intended to go to Omeath the next day.

So on Sunday afternoon, when all eyes were on the Rugby clash between Ireland and France, Siobhan found herself sitting before the kind and gentle Tony Golden, a 33-year-old garda, whose gift for empathy and listening had been noticed by his superiors.

She needed some things from the house. She and her father set off with Tony Golden to the housing estate overlooking the town. Mackin's car was parked outside.

It was probably because of the level of animosity that Mackin had directed towards Siobhan's family that Tony told her father he should stay in the car.

"He would not have been welcome in the house, there was no added benefit in having him there," said a senior officer.

The carnage inside the house afterwards told the story of what happened.

Sean Phillips said he heard Mackin talk to Siobhan and Garda Golden when they entered the house.

It seems that Tony Golden then waited in the hall while Siobhan went upstairs to get her things. But Mackin was also upstairs. He appeared in front of Siobhan and shot her twice in the head and four times in the body.

It appears that Tony Golden ran up the stairs, according to garda sources. He had almost reached the top when Crevan emerged and opened fire, hitting him several times in the chest and neck, propelling his body with force down to the hall.

Mackin then killed himself with one shot to the head.

The sound of gunshots rang out in the estate. It was a neighbour who rang the emergency services - Siobhan's father, Sean Phillips, was in shock.

Siobhan remains critically ill, having undergone operations at Beaumont Hospital to remove bullets lodged in her head. Tony Golden died at the scene, paramedics unable to save him. His heroic intervention may have pre-empted tragedy on an even greater scale.

Gardai later discovered that Mackin had loaded up his car with a second hand gun and an enormous cache of ammunition - 700 rounds - along with drums of petrol.

Gardai have little doubt about Mackin's intentions: there are strong suspicions that he planned to attack Siobhan, her family and possibly even their two children.

Garda Golden was the 88th officer to be murdered in the line of duty and the second to be murdered in Louth in a space of just three years.

Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was murdered in Lordship, a short distance from Omeath, by armed robbers in January, 2013.

The questions raised then about resources in the border counties surfaced again last week, as it quickly became clear that policing figures continued to fall after Garda Donohoe's murder.

Questions were asked about whether Tony Golden should have had back-up before calling alone to the home of a psychopath who was on bail for membership of an illegal organistaion. Should call-outs be "risk-assessed" before gardai are dispatched? More importantly, where did Mackin get the guns?

One senior garda said: "The view among gardai is we do this every day of the week, we do it and we don't see any issues with it.

"You might have 45 domestics on a tour of duty and if you were to risk-assess all of them, you wouldn't get out the door. He was doing what is natural to a garda."

Tony Golden seemed to espouse the best attributes of the rural community garda, from his community spirit forged in his native Ballina, Co Mayo, his love of hurling, his protective nature and his sense of justice. His younger brother Patrick, who gave the eulogy at the end of Tony's funeral Mass, recalled his big brother with evident pride.

"As a child growing up, I always looked up to Tony in every way. He made me feel so secure and protected.

"He always looked out for me, and ensured I was never led astray. He would go out of his way to ensure I was always safe. This was Tony's nature, as he treated all his family and friends in the same way."

From a young age, Tony wanted to become a garda. He stayed in Ballina after he left school, continuing to play for the Ballina Stevenites, and working locally in the security industry, while planning his application.

One of the people he turned to for advice was the local superintendent, Joe Doherty.

"Joining the Garda was the career path he always wanted to take," Supt Doherty told the Sunday Independent. "He was described at his funeral as a gentle giant and he did show great empathy towards people. He was a great listener. Being the type of person that he was, he was an ideal candidate as a community garda."

Tony was posted first to Cabinteely in south Dublin and to Omeath six years ago. His superintendent, Gerry Curley, said he was "meticulous" in his work.

He met and married Nicola, a district nurse from Louth, and was happily raising their three young children. On his "downtime" he liked watching sports on TV - the remote control and the snacks he treated himself to in his "time out" were offered as symbols of his life at his funeral Mass - cans of Coke, a Drifter chocolate bar and a packet of Hunky Dory crisps.

His background was a world away from Adrian Crevan Mackin's in Rostrevor, near Newry in Co Down.

From a young age, Mackin was in trouble with social services and became obsessed with guns. As a teenager, he held a gun to his mother's throat. He had a spell in a young offenders' centre in Belfast and when he emerged, his family had emigrated to Australia.

He evolved into a short-fused psychopath who sought an outlet in dissident republicanism. The Police Service of Northern Ireland found images of bestiality on his computer when they searched his house. In July 2012, he was charged. He also threatened two social workers who had cause to liaise with him over his treatment of Siobhan, the girlfriend with whom he would go on to have two children. A psychological assessment found him to be dangerous. Mackin received a four- month suspended sentence for the beastility pictures, after which he moved to Omeath with Siobhan, where he rented a house and tried to set himself up as a would- be arms dealer, buying replica guns and components for bomb-making. He ordered them over the internet, to be shipped in from the US.

According to garda sources, dissidents on both sides of the Border used him from time to time for some of their criminal enterprises but even these criminal factions had little time for him. In a statement designed to dissociate itself from Mackin last week, the so-called 'Oglaigh Na hEireann' dissident group said: "Anyone familiar with Mackin would have described him as a Walter Mitty-type character and very likely a police informer."

The Garda Special Branch arrested Crevan Mackin in the Crescent in Dundalk in January last year and charged him with membership of an illegal organisation.

After his first court appearance, he was remanded to Portlaoise Prison, where dissidents disowned him.

According to the "Oglaigh na hEireann" statement, they thought it "was highly likely that he was attempting to infiltrate the prisoners in the block". Mackin was released on bail.

In 1970, Fr Joe Kennedy was a young priest with the Passionist fathers in Mount Argus in Harold's Cross when Garda Richard Fallon was shot in Dublin. He was asked to break the news to the dead garda's wife.

"I had a little scooter at the time and I went over on it, wearing my Passionist habit. I pulled up at the house and I knocked on the door. Deirdre came to the door, she had a potato in one hand and a knife in the other. She was getting Dick's lunch ready.

"She didn't know me but when she saw me she asked me three questions.

"She asked, 'What's wrong? Is it Dick? Is he dead?' I said, 'Well he's been shot, Deirdre. May I come in?' 'Is he dead?' she said. 'I'm afraid to tell you that yes, he is.'"

His visit to Tony's widow, Nicola, on Monday morning was equally harrowing. His role was "just to be there on behalf of all the garda family".

The family home was milling with visitors and relatives and cups of tea. The shocking event that brought everyone to the family home hung like a surreal fog over their conversation about the mundane stuff of ordinary life, everyone trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Fr Joe told Nicola that his brother, John, a doctor, also lives in Blackrock. As it turned out, Nicola knew him well.

"Nicola and Tony actually minded my brother's little dog when my brother went on holidays. And yesterday when we met up after the funeral in the GAA club, I reminded her of that. She said, 'I loved that little dog so much, we didn't want to give him back,'" he said.

"I always talk about the garda family. It is a family. When something tragic happens, everybody feels it. They are a very close-knit group of people," said Fr Joe.

At Tony Golden's State funeral on Thursday, 4,000 gardai gathered under a blazing autumn sun in the seaside village of Blackrock to honour their fallen colleague, a powerful and moving wall of support that enveloped his family - Nicola, his children, his parents Breege and David, his brothers David, Kenneth, Patrick, and Sean, and his sister Mary.

In his front garden in the neat housing estate where he lived, a row of officers in uniform stood motionless, waiting for his coffin to be shouldered out to the waiting hearse.

The only sound was of his two little girls who played and gurgled with childish laughter on the lawn, no concept that their father would not be coming home that night.

Four thousand marched solemnly to the slow beat of a drum accompanying their colleague on his final journey to the church, a breathtaking and poignant sight.

In contrast, Adrian Crevan Mackin was cremated at a hastily organised private service in Belfast on Friday by a handful of friends who came forward to claim his body when they realised that no one else intended to.

There are few who can come close to understanding what Nicola Golden and her children are going through. Ann McCabe is one of them.

Her husband, Jerry McCabe, was shot dead by an IRA gang in 1996, when he and his partner, Ben O'Sullivan, were providing an armed escort to a post office van in Adare, Co Limerick.

"You never get over it. You learn to live with it, but you really never get over it," she said.

"I just want to sympathise with Nicola and her young family and her parents and his parents. It brings it all back, believe you me, and you wonder who is going to be next."

After Jerry McCabe was killed, someone gave her a poem that she says now sums up her feelings: "Somebody killed a garda today in your town or in mine, While we slept in comfort behind our locked doors, a garda put his life on the line."

Sunday Independent

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