Monday 22 October 2018

My 38-year search for the truth -- by the son of a slain garda hero

John Meagher

John Meagher

Finian Fallon is a driven man. He is part of that small, but defiant band of people whose lives have been touched by tragedy and who strive for the truth against all odds.

Every day, the Dublin accountant is haunted by unanswered questions surrounding the murder of his father, Garda Richard Fallon. The policeman was gunned down during an armed bank robbery at the Royal Bank of Ireland on Dublin's Arran Quay in April 1970, leaving behind a widow and five young children.

Dick Fallon was the first garda to be murdered in 28 years. The killers -- allegedly members of the short-lived Republican paramilitary group, Saor Eire -- were never brought to justice.

To this day, his son is convinced that they were given special treatment by a government that was about to become embroiled in the Arms Trial controversy.

This theory forms the subject of the first programme in a four-part Leargas documentary series about gardai killed in the line of duty. Featuring contributions from Finian and his brother Richard, it gives a sense of a family's despair while also painting a picture of an Ireland in political turmoil. The documentary also portrays a largely inept, parochial police force whose attempts to bring three suspected culprits to trial ended in farce.

Finian Fallon has been campaigning for years for a public inquiry into the incident. He believes there is evidence to show that there were links between the controversial Fianna Fail administration of the time and Saor Eire. He is convinced that his father's death was brushed under the carpet by Jack Lynch's government.

"I have a right to know the full circumstances of my father's killing," he says. "Thirty-eight years have elapsed, but there should be a public inquiry. Similar enquiries have taken place in the North, but not here. It seems to be a part of our history that many people want to pretend that it never happened."

His struggle to discover the truth received renewed impetus in July 2001 when Des O'Malley, while making a Dail statement regarding the Arms Trial, insisted that there was reason to believe Dick Fallon may have been murdered with a weapon which had been part of earlier illegal arms shipments into this State.

The murder had a devastating impact on the Fallon family. Finian's mother, who was teetotal while her husband was alive, became an alcoholic and died 13 years ago. A brother, Joseph, also died in tragic circumstances. Finian blames both tragedies on the stress caused by his father's death.

The murder, which happened when he was just three years old, would dominate his childhood. "It was talked about all the time, quite understandably. Yet I struggle to remember many details about my father. I was so young when he died."

The memory of the funeral is etched on his mind. "I can remember walking up the pathway to Balbriggan cemetery with hundreds of people around and everyone in black coats and getting separated from my mother and looking up and thinking I was going to be crushed to death." He remembers standing by the side of the grave as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He almost fell in with the casket as he threw a daffodil into the open grave.

"I remember a sense of him never coming back. I'm told I used to wait for him standing in my cot."

When he reached adulthood, he started to look for answers, and his efforts have intensified since 2000, when State papers released under the 30-year rule turned out to be fruitless. "We had hoped that there would be sensitive material about the treatment of Saor Eire by that government," he says, "but nothing showed up. It made me even more convinced that trying to find answers was the correct thing to do."

It's something that has consumed him. "I have the personal strength to keep this up. I'm even more resolved than ever to know the truth." He has received tenuous information, which suggests that a politician from the time may have helped the cover-up, but he can't prove it -- yet. "What I'm saying is a terribly serious allegation against the Irishgovernment and they haven't responded to it. If I'm wrong, let them prove I'm wrong.

"The only really effective way I have of campaigning about this is either to get media coverage or to take a case against the government."

He says he has no interest in vengeance. "We merely want the truth. Despite our efforts, we have received no official recognition of our case. There are other families of murdered gardai that also have serious, unanswered questions concerning the deaths of their parents and spouses."

The 41-year-old is not married, has no children and can devote more time than most to pursing his beliefs. But he is aware of the dangers of allowing a campaign like this to subsume his life.

"I know who I am. I know what I'm seeking. I have to do it for my family's sake, and that of my father."

Leargas: Garda Ar Lar will be shown on RTE One on Monday at 7.30pm.

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