No-one should be surprised by the actions of our Guardians Of Privilege in Baldonnel last weekend. The grumpy authoritarian ego-trippers had to do something to justify their bank holiday overtime pay and the use of the copper-copter. Cuffing a young lad, forcing him to the ground and kneeling on him because he didn’t want to piss himself – that’s really guarding the peace. It seems as though the boys in blue haven’t quite moved on from the days of former blueshirt Garda Commissioner Eoin O’ Duffy. The “few rotten apples” thesis spouted by the Garda Representatives Association (ironically acronymed GRA) isn’t credible. One only has to look at the cases of the Wheelock, Mulhall, Abbeylara, McBrearty families, RTS 2002 along with the Sallins train robbery, the ‘Kerry Babies’ case and Shercock cases in the past as evidence of a wider, institutional and generational malaise with the Gardai. Even, Henry Grattan called the police service” an abominable institution”.
A long history of brutality
In 1977 Amnesty International, reported evidence of Garda brutality, by the “HEAVY GANG “, which had at that stage, become internationally notorious. The “Heavy Gang”, which was formed by former Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey, was responsible for the systematic torture, abuse and false prosecutions of Irish citizens, especially anyone with a republican hue about themselves (it was later discovered Garvey had been working for British intelligence).
In what became know as “The Sallins Train Robbery” 200,00 punt was stolen from the Cork to Dublin mail train, near Sallins in Kildare on 31 March 1976. Four members of the IRSP: Osgur Breatnach; Nicky Kelly; Brian McNally; and John Fitzpatrick were arrested, but after the complete failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” (or any evidence at all) against them, they were released. However, Breatnach, Kelly and McNally were immediately rearrested. During “interrogation” (they were systematically beaten) in custody, they all signed confessions. Osgur Breatnach, stated: “I bear witness to torture… conspiracy to kidnap” … that was conducted in this State. While in the Bridewell (the station round the back of the Four Courts) he contemplated hanging himself before he was driven to sign a false statement.
While awaiting trial Kelly left the country. He was tried in his absence along with Breatnach and McNally before the Special Criminal Court (no jury). Medical evidence of beatings was presented to the court but was rejected, with the court judging that the beatings had been “self-inflicted”. The three were found guilty on the basis of their confessions (no other evidence at all), and sentenced to between nine and 12 years prison. In 1980 Breatnach and McNally were acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken “under duress”. Kelly returned to Ireland shortly afterwards expecting to be acquitted but was chucked back into Portlaoise prison where he spent the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a period on hunger strike. Kelly was eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984 and was given a presidential pardon in 1992 with 750,000 for his troubles after campaigns by Amnesty and the ICCL. The state never officially admitted any wrongdoing.
Accused garda promoted to investigate accused gardai
Former editor of the Sunday World Eamon McCann talked about how he challenged corrupt former Tanaiste Michael O’Leary on the case. O’Leary said the Garda Commissioner had assured him that Kelly was guilty, after all, as O’Leary explained, you “don’t question the word of a guard”. The Heavy Gang was set up under the Fine Gael-Labour coalition which was replaced by FF in 1977. Heavy Gang commissioner Garvey was sacked but most of the rest of the gang were promoted. One of the investigators for the Morris tribunal in Donegal, former Garda, Michael ‘Mickey’ Finn was named repeatedly in court by Nicky Kelly as the main Garda responsible for savagely beating him . It’s ironic that someone whose name became synonymous with Garda corruption is now investigating similar allegations in Donegal.
Injustice for all
The use of physical force to intimidate witnesses was not confined to “subversive cases” and republicans. Major workers’ struggles such as the Post Office workers’ strike of 1979 were defeated by Garda baton charges on picket lines.
The ‘Kerry Babies’ case and the circumstances surrounding Shercock case (where a prisoner died in custody in highly suspicious circumstances) are well-documented cases of authoritarian behaviour by the Gardai. Joanne Hayes, a perceived “despicable”, young, single mother from Kerry became pregnant. Unfortunately her baby died shortly after she gave birth in secret on the family farm. She was then charged with the murder of another baby, found stabbed to death on the strand at Cahirciveen, after confessions were “extracted” from her and other members of her family. The confessions were “extracted” even though blood samples proved that the baby, which was stabbed to death, could not have been Joanne Hayes’. The Gardai claimed she must have had twins. Although the charges were dropped, a tribunal held the following year cleared the Gardai of obtaining confessions by intimidation and branded Joanne Hayes and her family as liars. It was an attempt by the state to reaffirm its moral and ethical attitudes on Irish society.
Recent manifestations of a culture of violence
The cases of Terence Wheelock and John Maloney have recently come to light. Terence Wheelock had been in a coma since his arrest and detention on June 2nd 2005 in Store Street Garda Station, along with three other people on suspicion of car theft. The Garda Press Office made a statement, claiming that Terence had tied a ligature around his neck, and secured this to a “fixture” which was “counter sunk into the wall”. The subsequent renovating of the cell after his death, and the lengths to which the Gardai went to prevent the family from accessing his clothes doesn’t fill one with confidence with regards to the official line.
Similarly, teenager John Maloney Junior, from Crumlin in Dublin, was arrested in May 2003 and detained at Rathfarnham Garda Station. Less than an hour after his release, he was found lying unconscious and died days later in hospital. An open verdict was returned at an inquest into the 18-year-old’s death. John’s mother Sandra Maloney said: “They denied they ever had my son. I heard it on the radio that there was a lad found unconscious and I recognised that it was my son. My husband went to the Garda station and they said he was in Tallaght Hospital with a bump on his head.” Mrs Maloney said her son did not sign release forms before leaving Rathfarnham Garda Station and did not collect his belongings. Sandra Maloney also claimed Johnny’s body was covered in bruises on his chest, hips, back and neck and that he had marks on his kneecaps. The family feel that the statements given by Gardai to the inquest are “choreographed”, but they have run out of options because they don’t have enough money to take any legal action. They now face “cruel, vicious and organised harassment” from the gardaí. Between 1975 and 1979 no less than twenty people died in police stations and prisons.
An anti-drugs campaigner from the same community as Terrence Wheelock, Jimmy Mulhall, says he and his five sons have been the victims of an ongoing campaign of Garda brutality and harassment stretching back to the 1990s. Mulhall and his 16 year old son, Wayne, have both sought hospital treatment following periods in Garda custody. Another son, also called Jimmy, committed suicide in 2002, a tragedy the family blames on Garda harassment. The Mulhalls claim the current series of incidents followed the arrest of Wayne Mulhall, then 14, in April 2003 for stealing a car. During the arrest, Wayne alleges, a Garda repeatedly closed a car door on his legs. Jimmy Mulhall and his wife collected Wayne from Garda custody in Mountjoy station and from there they brought him to the Mater Hospital where his facial and leg injuries were recorded. When it became known that the Mulhalls were making a formal complaint, the family alleges, they were subject to a number of visits to the house by gardaí, including those implicated in the complaint. These culminated in a morning raid by 17 gardaí five months later, in which Wayne was rearrested. When Wayne appeared in court on the car robbing charges the case was dismissed. However, gardaí continued to call to the family home, the Mulhalls say. Jimmy Mulhall claims to have been told that if the complaints didn’t stop, the harassment would get worse.
“The strongest bulwark of authority is uniformity.” – Emma Goldman
There is a culture of denial amongst the Gardai as a whole with “decent” Gardai refusing to speak out about such abuses. After Reclaim The Streets 2002 only 20 of the 150 gardaí on duty that day replied to inquiries from the Board and no Garda was able to identify any of their colleagues, even when shown photographs where the garda in question could be seen standing next to Gardai involved in assaulting protesters.
The institutional cultures of denial and authoritarianism have been created over time, nutured by leadership both within the Gardai and the political establishment. The Gardai (and state) have a clear and structured way of dealing with these issues when they arise:
1) resist calls for inquiries until the last resort;
2) confine inquiries to the narrowest possible remit;
3) draw the inquiry out for as long as possible;
4) ensure that the findings of any inquiry are restricted to purely technical facts.
Internal Garda investigations of these cases are not published and they only come into the public eye if charges are laid by the DPP. When people take a case against gardaí, it is routine for false charges to be served on the person making the claim and then they will offer to drop that charge if the claimant drops their (real) charge against the gardaí. The degree to which any government sponsored inspectorate or tribunal is motivated to impartially examine the role of Gardai isn’t open to doubt, it’s bloody obvious.
Shrinking from the light
Most abuses are confined to a five-on-one session in the back of a squad car, or a cell with stairs and dangerous doors. Cases settled out of court are not reported and plaintiffs sign confidentiality agreements, so such matters conveniently do not reach the papers. The manhandling of women at Baldonnel and the random kicking of people’s ankles will never get any attention, nor will the denial of the right to a phonecall and solicitor of the 4 people arrested. There’s no video recording of interviews despite multiple calls and reports advising such a move since the heavy gang of the 1970’s. Michael McDowell recently refused a request from Amnesty International to inspect Ireland’s prisons for a report they are conducting on racism within the prison system. Amnesty’s Ireland director, Sean Love, described the Justice Department as ‘secretive and paranoid’ and pointed out that Amnesty has been permitted access to jails in states such as Nigeria, Russia and Afghanistan. Countries denying access included Turkey, China, Israel and now Ireland. McDowell’s excuse for the exclusion was that something called the ‘National Training and Development Institute’ was currently investigating the jails and would let Amnesty know what they found out.
People are afraid … of the Gardaí
The victims of Garda abuse aren’t middle class shirt wearers. It’s socio-economically disadvantaged areas, ethnic minorities, the Traveller community, people who are homeless and young people generally. There are areas where its easier to call for a pizza to come to your house than the Gardai.
“People are afraid. If you have a son and you live down our way and that child gets a hiding off the police you would want to be very brave or have plenty of back up if you make a complaint. Because the minute you do they come down on you big time. You know the heavy gang would have nothing on them down there now, they are doing it in the open and don’t care” – Jimmy MulhallSome of the historical info and quotes have been lifted from various inymedia posts, newspaper reports and the village magazine. There are may other cases like whats happening in Donegal and what happened at Abbeylara, Longford.