As members of An Garda Síochána, we have the proud experience of serving the community since the foundation of the State. Regrettably many of the voices who spoke about that experience, are now silent, silent forever. Their legacy lives on in the minds and hearts of many and is recalled in historical documents and media reports. However, the voices of colleagues from the ‘Troubles’ generations are still very much with us. It is very important that they are collected and recorded for posterity. Many will be familiar with militraryarchives.ie, which hold the recollections of many who fought during the War of Independence. The recollections of family and friends are an integral part of the narrative. This archive provides a model for the capture of our memories. Outstanding research has been conducted on the origin of policing in Ireland. This same scope has not been applied to the history of An Garda Síochána even though there have been some excellent books written on the topic.There have been some notable exceptions to the dearth of information including books by Conor Brady, ‘Guardians of the Peace’ and the subsequent ‘The Guarding of Ireland’. Similarly, Liam McNiffe’s ‘History of the Garda Síochána’ is well worth reading. There also have been reflective contributions from others but is clear that volumes of information remains untapped.There must be no intention of prosecuting the War of Independence or the Civil War all over again. No doubt there will be respectful and sensitive ceremonies to remember all victims of those conflicts in due course and after mature reflection.
WHAT POLICING MODEL WAS CHOSEN? The foundation of An Garda Síochána in 1922 resulted from the bloody War of Independence and the Force had to exist through the ensuing and equally bloody Civil War. Also, the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) continued as the civil police force for Dublin until 1925 when it was amalgamated into An Garda Síochána. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was disbanded in 1922 and this led in turn to the formation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), which provided a police force for the northern six counties which remained within the United Kingdom. Academic research shows that the RIC and the RUC were paramilitary forces based on the British Colonial model. Indeed, it seems that many of the colonial forces were based directly on the RIC model, with raining for many of their officers conducted at the Phoenix Park. The ethos of An Garda Síochána is founded on the principle of policing by consent, which is in contrast to the colonial model.
Mawby¹ argues that “the model of policing used by Britain as its Empire expanded was not London’s Metropolitan Police Force, but the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The RIC’s legitimacy was not based on the local community in Ireland, but on London. This system of policing was replicated throughout the Empire where British rule often was imposed by a small occupying force. This was a central component of wider colonial policy to replace local customs with British institutions and to impose centralised social control”.
The concept of consent presupposes that society as a whole is based on a national shared consensus whereby the political system is considered legitimate. This legitimacy is often contested and the best that can be hoped for is majority consent which relies on a system of law to mediate our differences when all else fails. These conditions of agreement, legitimacy and consent were strongly disputed concepts at the foundation of the state which of course was given expression in the War of the Independence and the Civil War.
FORMING STORMING PHASE The initial foundation of the An Garda Síochána was a fractious affair with a full-blown mutiny in the Kildare Training Depot and armed factions on the verge of direct combat. The first Garda Commissioner, Michael Staines, resigned as a result of this mutiny but it was he who also penned the enduring aspiration: “The Civic Guard² unlike other police forces will necessarily depend for the successful performance of their duties not on arms or numbers but on the moral force they exercise as servants, representatives of a civic authority which is dependent for its existence on the free will of the people.” The new police force went through a normalising experience which ultimately led to acceptance. This acceptance continues to this day and reciprocally it also implies that An Garda Síochána will always give its loyalty to whatever democratically-elected government is in place. This is not or should not be unconditional loyalty and should be subject to the rule of law and legitimacy.
GARDA CENTENARY PROJECT A decision has been taken at Garda HQ to undertake a project covering the formative events which occurred at the foundation of the State. The GSRMA has been invited to participate in this committee and this engagement will provide opportunity to contribute and of course to shape its direction as different proposals emerge. Indeed, the GSRMA had been considering for some time many issues concerned with the Garda history. There is a general feeling that the contribution of the An Garda Síochána has never been fully and formally recognised by the State. This was evidenced by the lack of prominence given during the 2016 centenary events. There is a widespread feeling that our contribution was crucial in the protection of the State and its citizens during the relatively recent ‘Troubles’ and this contribution has not been formally recognised either. One of the most exciting projects mooted is an Oral History Project. It is obvious that an oral history should complement a written history of the Force, which should capture the significant events from the intervening generations probably up to 1998. It is of national historical importance that the history of the ‘Troubles’ be recorded. It is my view that this account should be largely drawn from the recollections of members and files of the An Garda Síochána itself, and written with that perspective in mind. Within the GSRMA we had discussed undertaking this work, so it is welcome that there will be an official project in this regard. Nevertheless, it’s important that there should be consensus on the scope and direction and academic robustness of any project.
GENERATIONS OF THE ‘TROUBLES’³ I referred to the strong belief amongst colleagues that the contribution made by the An Garda Síochána to preservation of the State during these troubled years has not been recognised by successive governments. The RUC were honoured with the presentation of the George Cross to that Force in recognition of their services to the UK. In the Republic medal wearing is not necessarily part of our DNA but the desire for recognition for service rendered is overwhelmingly justified. Garda Richard Fallon was the first Garda to die during a bank raid in Dublin on 3 April 1970, during the course of the ‘Troubles’. The GSRMA has taken action in conjunction with Garda Fallon’s family to ensure that his sacrifice will be remembered. A memorial plaque⁴ will be unveiled on the exact 50th anniversary of his death at 25 Arran Quay. All concerned with this project have been incredibly helpful and will be publicly recognised. Many others were to make the ultimate sacrifice as the ‘Troubles’ unfolded. These officers also must be remembered in the appropriate way and at the right time.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE An Garda Síochána well recognised and respected internationally. This has been due to participation in various UN and EU missions and other international bodies. There has been long-standing co-operation with Interpol and Europol and intelligence agencies. Co-operation with law enforcement worldwide has become the norm and none more so than with our nearest neighbours. There is much to be proud of and there is a need for historical accuracy when recounting the past.
RECALLING OUR STORY This story is our story and needs to be recalled and recorded with that perspective in mind. Most commentary or analysis on An Garda Síochána has been conducted by interested observers but rarely members of the force itself. There also has been prolonged negative commentary which is often unbalanced. The positive experience and major contributions made by thousands of Gardaí over the generations is often forgotten. The model of militraryarchives.ie is the model to be followed when capturing our history. This initiative will require resources (money) commitment and openness and the GSRMA is more than willing to play a leading role. It should be clear that if this history is not captured much information will be permanently lost. Indeed, we all should make a special effort to attend the Annual Garda Memorial Day in Dublin Castle on Saturday 16 May this year in the spirit of remembrance and recognition.
CAPTURING OUR NARRATIVE There are many different themes to be captured in research. These are generational and often related to political changes as well as social and economic considerations. These are some of the themes which deserve exploration. An Garda Síochána is largely an unarmed police service but the ability to achieve specialist proficiency in the use of firearms had always been part of our story. So, what is the real story and do we view the past through rose tinted spectacles? It is a fact that most murdered Gardaí have been unarmed uniform officers.
APPOINTING/SACKING COMMISSIONERS The leadership provided to a people centred organisation is obviously very important. So, what does history teach us? The first three commissioners (Staines, O’Duffy and Broy, 1922-1938) came from a War of Independence background. The next two were civil servants (Kinnane and Costigan 1938 -1965). These were followed by a line of Garda Commissioners, (Quinn, Carroll, Wymes, Malone, Garvey, McLaughlin, Wren, Doherty, Crowley, Culligan, Byrne, Conroy, Murphy, Callinan, and O’Sullivan, 1965 – 2017) and eventually Harris 2017 (PSNI/RUC to date). Research should show to what degree these individuals contributed to the development of the policing service.
Were they innovators or traditional conservatives and have they left a story behind that we can learn from? At least three of them left office in challenged circumstances. Two IRA campaigns, the first in the 1940s and again in the “Troubles” generations from (1968 to 1998) posed big challenges to democracy and policing. An Garda Síochána’s contribution to the stability of the State has not been fully recognised.
HIGH PROFILE APPROVAL Despite the slings and arrows An Garda Síochána has always enjoyed very high public approval and that is an approval which is denied many police forces despite their seeming efficiency. Individual Gardaí and their families have endured many challenges including some who paid the supreme sacrifice.
Much of this narrative remains hidden and unrecorded. The significant challenge is now to logically and impartially capture it while it’s still possible. Obviously there should be good co-operation between serving members and retired Gardaí. Our task is to record and remember, but not to interpret facts to the advantage of one side over the other. We should ensure that the primary focus is on An Garda Síochána members and families and it’s not about settling pre independence arguments good or bad. These and many other themes need research and recording.
¹Mawby, R. (1999) ‘Variations on a Theme: the Development of Professional Police in the British Isles and North America’, in R. Mawby (ed.) Policing across the World” Issues for the Twenty First Century. London: UCL Press: 28-58
²Later An Garda Síochána.
³1968 -1998 From Civil Rights to Good Friday Agreement
⁴Full Particulars of the ceremony will be made available