Tuesday 24 October 2017

Obituaries: Garda leaders who battled to boost conditions for rank and file

Two important figures in force who helped end outdated working practices

Jack Marrinan
Jack Marrinan

John 'Jackie' Marrinan was for a large part of his 27 years as general secretary of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), the de facto public face of the garda. Articulate with keen political instincts and the added bonus of a flair for media handling, he led the GRA unopposed and was allowed what now seems remarkable latitude by his superiors to speak on behalf of the force.

Marrinan had been one of 11 gardaí temporarily dismissed over their role in the 1961 industrial dispute under which gardaí successfully fought for proper working and living conditions. Until then, gardaí had only two days' leave each month and that was entirely at the discretion of their superiors.

Unmarried gardaí in cities had to live in their stations on call 24 hours a day. Transfers were frequent and disruptive to family life.

Management and structure had remained virtually unchanged since the foundation of the State, retaining the paramilitary ethos and basic conditions of the constables of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

After the successful 1960s garda 'revolt', Marrinan became the general secretary of the then 'Representative Body' for all ranks at the age of 28.

One of his first acts was to commission the then young economist Garret FitzGerald to draw up a presentation on garda pay and conditions as a prelude to the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry under Judge John Conroy. The 1969 Conroy Report established the modern working conditions that gardaí have enjoyed since.

The competing interests across the rank structure and the acceptance by government of the need to improve conditions across the board for gardaí in face of the rising threat from Provisional IRA terrorism meant that the all-ranks 'Representative Body' was dissolved. The separate GRA, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and the Superintendents' Association emerged in 1970 with Marrinan, who refused promotion, remaining as head of the biggest and, as he designed it, most powerful of the associations.

Marrinan served under seven commissioners and had good working relations with almost all of them. He was the public figure who stood up for the force against media criticism during the so-called 'Heavy Gang' period when repeated claims were made of brutality in dealing with the IRA and other subversive elements.

Born into a family of nine in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, he joined the garda directly from school and later studied at Trinity College, achieving a degree in his spare time while establishing the GRA and working assiduously for his members' betterment.

He had a long and happy retirement surrounded by family before his death in May, aged 81. He had remained unopposed as general secretary for 27 years until his retirement in 1987.

He is survived by his widow, Mary, his sons, David and John, his daughter Clare.

Jackie Marrinan's successor as general secretary of the GRA, John Ferry, who died earlier this month, was one of a breed of gardaí who were expected, as part of their duties, to take on and defeat the Provisional IRA and its terrorist affiliates, which they did.

Gardaí, armed with nothing more than the cheap and often unpredictable Uzi sub-machine guns and the .38 Smith & Wesson revolvers as props to their nerve and brawn, provided the bulwark between the insurgent republican 'army' and the State.

Many like Ferry were seconded directly from ordinary uniformed duties (in his case in Sligo, which had almost no serious crime) to the Special Task Force, a lightly armed but highly motivated anti-terrorism force.

Thirteen officers were to be murdered in the course of their duties countering the Provos' campaign to overthrow the Republic.

Ferry had been an ardent and popular figure in the GRA from its foundation with strong support among the mainly rural divisions of the force. His support was sufficient to ensure his selection as 'Gen Sec' in 1987 following the ­unopposed leadership of Jackie ­Marrinan.

His election, however, was followed by divisions within the association which had as much to do with personal rivalry as well as the real difficulties of handling a body of members who included men frequently in the frontline of what was effectively a low-intensity war.

Ferry, who died earlier this month aged 71, might have expected to have a relatively easy ride as general secretary, building on the major advances made by Jackie Marrinan and others.

One of his key, and ultimately successful aims, was the consolidation of the various allowances and overtime payments as being included as 'pensionable' pay.

However, from the outset of his 10-year tenure in office, he faced residual opposition including elements who had not supported his candidacy for the job. There was also a large intake of gardaí who had joined in the rapid expansion of the force in the 1970s, largely stationed in Dublin and other urban centres, who felt that Ferry preferred the betterment of rural garda conditions over theirs.

Ferry had to contend with running opposition which came to a head over an element of the pensions deal in 1994 with a picket of the AGM in Galway by supporters of five Central Executive Committee members expelled over opposition to the deal that Ferry had spent years negotiating, often at loggerheads with the departments of finance and justice. For a time, a large number of GRA members broke away to form their own rival body, the Garda Federation.

For three years after the 1994 picket, the government assisted by Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Agency, strained to contain the divisions within the GRA with Ferry, never as polished a public performer as Jackie Marrinan, often seen to be struggling to deal with the splits around him. It was, friends say, a very difficult time for Ferry and took a toll on his health.

The final resolution of these internal divisions appeared to involve a consensus among the opposing factions that John Ferry's removal as general secretary became the price for the resolution. In 1997, after former supporters began to turn against him, he retired and returned to his family in Sligo.

He is survived by his wife Evelyn and their son John jnr.

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