Monday 14 October 2019

'Wrong on every level' - Flanagan apologises to former garda threatened with dismissal for having baby out of wedlock

As a young garda recruit, Majella Moynihan felt 'forced' to give up her baby after becoming pregnant while attending training college. She was then charged with breaches of discipline, writes Maeve Sheehan

Majella Moynihan asked An Garda Siochana for an apology
Majella Moynihan asked An Garda Siochana for an apology
Majella Moynihan as a young garda
Majella Moynihan on graduation day
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has apologised to a former garda who was investigated and threatened with dismissal from the force for having a baby out of wedlock with another recruit.

Majella Moynihan was investigated by gardai in the 1980s over becoming pregnant.

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In a statement this morning Mr Flanagan said:

“I have spoken to Commissioner Harris and I welcome his apology to Ms Majella Moynihan on behalf of An Garda Síochána. I echo that apology in my capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality," he said.

"As a young Garda, Ms Moynihan faced an appalling ordeal at a time in Ireland that was sadly too often characterised by stigma and intolerance. What happened to her was clearly wrong on every level.”

Majella Moynihan joined An Garda Siochana as an eager young recruit on what she said was the most exciting day of her life. She had put a difficult childhood behind her to embrace the life she thought was ahead of her. Majella's mother had died in a road accident when she was a baby, and her father, whom she believes couldn't cope, placed his daughters into industrial school in Mallow until they were 16.

As she recounted in a harrowing documentary broadcast on RTE Radio One yesterday afternoon, Majella thought: "Putting on that uniform, putting my shoulders back and saying 'Yes, I've done it. It's wonderful'."

It was the mid-1980s, an era when the scandals of the Catholic Church had yet to break the surface, contained by a hierarchy scandalised by women's sexuality; Joanne Hayes was traduced by the authorities in the Kerry Babies case; teacher Eileen Flynn was dismissed for having a child out of wedlock; and the teenage Anne Lovett died after giving birth by a grotto in Granard, Co Longford. Yesterday, Majella Moynihan took her place among them. She was charged by An Garda Siochana for having sex before marriage and a child out of wedlock that she says she was "forced" to give up for adoption. She told her story for the first time yesterday in The Case of Majella Moynihan, a radio documentary produced by Aoife Kelleher and Sarah Blake.

"When a child is taken from you and when a child is given to somebody else, and I'm speaking of my own experience, there's not a day of your life that goes by that you don't think of that child and what if I had him, what would I be doing with him and how would he be if he was with me? That hole will never be filled. Every day to this day, I think of him."

Majella was called to the Garda Training College in Templemore, Tipperary, in April 1983. She had a boyfriend, whom she had met in the Garda Club and was a year ahead of her at Templemore. She started her first posting in Store Street garda station in Dublin later that year, knowing she was pregnant.

She went to Cura, the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, which introduced her to another female garda who advised her to tell her district officer. At four months pregnant, Majella sat in his office. "The first question he asked me was, 'Who is the father of your child?'. And he said 'Is he a guard?' and I said, 'he is' and straightaway he got out a pen and he wrote down his name. And I remember asking, 'Why is it that important who he is and whether he's a guard or not?'"

Unknown to Majella, word had already reached the Garda's top brass. Over the following months, inspectors, chief superintendents and assistant commissioners secretly monitored her pregnancy. "Please report further when baby is born to above-named," was the only non-redacted line in a letter sent by a chief superintendent to an assistant commissioner.

By March 1984, seven months pregnant, Majella began her maternity leave and her Cura social worker, Mena Robinson, arranged for her to go to a family in Galway. "The pressure came from every angle to adopt - it came from the gardai, it came from Cura and it also came from the social worker. She kept saying 'You know you can't give your child what you'd like to give him. You're 21 years of age, it'd be better if we took him and he went to a good family'. I still didn't know what I was going to do."

Her beautiful boy was born on May 31. Majella named him David and he was sent to a foster home. She travelled from Dublin every week to see him.

Six weeks after she gave birth, a Garda inspector quizzed her and later noted that she intended to "have the baby adopted, but she has not yet signed the necessary consent forms", that her relationship had ended and that "there was no prospect of reconciliation. It is not her intention to seek financial support".

Baby David was adopted on July 30, 1984 and Majella returned to work. She had until the end of that year before the adoption would be final. Garda management ramped up their internal investigation of Majella for breach of discipline. She was issued with a formal notice of breach of discipline by the chief superintendent.

"That evening I was requested to go upstairs to a room. I didn't know what it was for, again I had tremendous fear," she recalled. "I was living outside of my body at that stage because I just, I was destroyed within, I was absolutely in the most vulnerable state I was ever in in my whole life and that was the night that charges were proffered against me."

Majella was charged with two counts under the 1971 Garda Siochana Regulations, 'Conduct prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit on the Force.'

The charges seem shocking now: The first accused her of "being an unmarried female member of An Garda Siochana" who "had sexual intercourse" with an unmarried garda recruit.

The second charge accused her of "being a female member of An Garda Siochana" who "gave birth to a child outside of wedlock".

"And after those charges were proffered against me, I was cautioned that I was not obliged to say anything unless I wished to do so and anything I said would be taken down in writing and may be given as evidence," Majella added.

"I remember thinking 'What are they doing?, Why am I being charged like a criminal? I did nothing wrong'. And the questions that I was asked, no person should ever be asked those questions. All about my past history, my sexual past, all about my life. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was pregnant, that I had given birth. At that stage I just felt that I wanted to die. I didn't want to live any more. I had to go back downstairs, put on my uniform and go back out on the beat as if nothing happened."

Six weeks later, Majella signed the necessary papers to finalise her son's adoption. "I felt, and I still feel, that I was pressurised into it and I didn't have a leg to stand on because every single person that spoke to me from the time that I told the authorities in the Garda Siochana that I was pregnant, that's the one thing that kept being mentioned: adoption, adoption, adoption."

Majella was 22. "Looking back at me now as that 21-year-old, 22-year-old, I was a lost soul. I was portraying to the civilian out on the streets that I was a wonderful, carefree person and inside I was dying.

"When I'd see little babies in buggies, I'd automatically think of David. Every day, I thought of him."

The disciplinary process dragged on. Majella heard rumours that she was to be sacked. Her Cura social worker told Majella she had been to a meeting with the then Garda Commissioner, Larry Wren, and Archbishop Kevin McNamara at Archbishop's Palace to discuss what to do with her.

"Mena came back to me after that meeting, and told me that Archbishop McNamara turned to Larry Wren and said, 'If you sack Majella, you're opening the gates to England'. And at that stage, it was decided that I was to be cautioned."

Majella was cautioned, but that was not the end of her interrogations. The father of her child was also disciplined, a year after David's birth. She was called as a witness in his internal disciplinary inquiry at which she was interrogated before a panel of senior male gardai and was asked: "Did you become pregnant deliberately?" and also if she used contraception and had had sex with anyone else.

"I often wonder what they thought was going to be the outcome of something so ferocious. How they could even comprehend to put a 22-year-old vulnerable person who did nothing wrong - that they portrayed I had done so much wrong - into a room full of men and to tear me apart like they did."

The father of Majella's child was fined £90 for his conduct. Majella spent years in counselling to deal with the trauma, which was compounded when her case reached the newspapers, although she was not named.

She married another garda, Martin Peelo, and they have a son, Stephen, now 21. Majella, who left the force in 1998, has also been reunited with David, who is now 34. She is training to be a mindfulness counsellor and says she is "happy". But it is evident that scars from that time remain. She sought her file from An Garda Siochana, knowing that she would one day tell her story.

"I think for Ireland in the 1980s, in the middle 1980s, that it's an appalling infliction on any female to have been charged with giving birth and charged with having intercourse. Two of the most beautiful things in the world, and yet I was charged with them and today I know that what they did was totally wrong and that I am very lucky to be the strong person that I am to have come out of it."

Yesterday she asked An Garda Siochana for an apology. "I knew 35 years ago what they did was wrong. I know today what they did was wrong. Yes, I want an apology."

And shortly after she told her story on radio, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris issued a statement, saying he fully apologised to Ms Moynihan on behalf of An Garda Siochana "for the manner in which she was treated and the subsequent lifelong impact this had on her."

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