An Garda Síochána; A History of Violence

Image from

By Patrick Brogan


What do the recent headlines coming from Catalunya and whistleblower Maurice McCabe have in common? On the surface, not a lot, but go back to the Spanish Civil War and links begin to emerge.

No war is as straightforward as the history books tell us. Everything is condensed and some of the more interesting stories are lost in favour of an over-simplified narrative. Events in Spain in the 1930s were no different. On one side, Franco and his Fascist forces protecting Spain from the encroaching evils of Communism, on the other, one of the great international workers’ movements to rid a country of a tyrant. Of course, the reality was far more muddied than that.

This is evident when we look at the people that came from abroad to fight and their motivations. The International Brigade had 45,000 volunteers, many of them Irish. Their ideals were more clear-cut than those Irish that fought on the other side. Franco’s side. While Franco was a Fascist, many of the Irish that fought for him were not. They saw this as a religious, or anti-religious, war rather than a political one. The Irish clergy urged young men to go over and stop the destruction of churches and murder of clerics. The Catholic hierarchy feared Catholic and noble Spain falling into the hands of atheists or worse, into the hands of the world Jewry capital of Moscow, as they saw it. Indeed, it wasn’t just the church that felt this way. Many daily publications like the Irish Independent felt the same without feeling the need to support Fascism.

Ireland and Spain both have a history of protecting each other’s shared religious beliefs. Many Irish as part of the Wild Geese fought for the Catholic monarchy in Spain. Spain’s troops were willing to put their lives on the line in Kinsale to protect Catholic Ireland from Protestant Britain. Many here felt that sacrifice should be repaid.


The Green Mussolini


And along comes Eoin O’ Duffy, one of the bogeymen of Irish history. Whatever this man’s religious beliefs were, he certainly had Fascist ones. He led the Blueshirts to fight on the Francist side, with very little success. Actually, Franco sent them home because they spent a lot of the time drunk. O’Duffy was no exception. Atrocities like Guernica were carried out with Franco’s help and the Irish public quickly changed their opinion. The Franco period ultimately led to the modern Catalan independence movement as it did too for other regions referred to as Spain.

O’Duffy is the linking line between the Spanish Civil War and Maurice McCabe and the modern police force in Ireland. A popular general during the Irish Civil War and in the early Irish Army, he later went on to become one of the first Garda Commissioners. While not the first, as sometimes claimed, he certainly left a huge mark on the organisation. He was popular in the new police force too and once told his officers that they must serve the Irish people and whoever they elected. He had a change of heart though and threatened a coup if de Valera was elected Taoiseach. Not surprisingly, Dev turfed him out upon taking office.


Fascism in the Police Force?


So, as Commissioner of the Gardaí, he established a political mindset within the organisation, rather than being objective. While many will disagree and try to deny this, that ideology was Fascism. O’Duffy despised Communism and set-up the Blueshirts, the National Guard and the National Corporate Party, all with a Fascist ideology to help defeat the Red Terror.

While Fascism as a definition varies from historian to historian, there are some clear traits they all share and that is a totalitarian nature, sexism or misogyny, ultra-nationalism(racism) and opposition to an open democratic society. These are the values O’Duffy held and brought with him into the national police force.


The Modern Era


These dubious beginnings have created a culture carried through to the modern era. In 2002, we saw the Gardaí use excessive force during the Reclaim the Streets movement. The infamous RoboCop, Donal Corcoran, was acquitted following the Garda violence and another six not seeing the inside of a courtroom for events even conservative  media  described as “thuggery”.


Then there was the student marches back in November 2010. Although many Gardaí suffered injuries and one even had a broken nose due to clashes with radical left-wing groups, many incidents were recorded of Gardaí attacking what appear to be people peacefully protesting. It must be stated that the group that posted this next clip, Éirígí, are one of those groups accused of using violence;


Death in Custody


Probably the most worrying trend is the rate that young men die in Garda custody. While not a daily event, it is frequent enough to raise grave concerns. A number of these appear to be cases of neglect, and others, well they are suspicious and that is putting it mildly. Firstly, there are overdoses by men remanded in custody. The family of Thomas Campion, who died of an overdose in Store Street Garda Station, feel the Gardaí had a duty of care to Thomas while in custody and they feel let down in that regard.

Then there is the case of Dwayne Foster who died in Coolock Garda Station. He had a long string of convictions and was by all accounts a dangerous man. He was also described as a thorn in the side local law enforcement. Foster was being investigated for the murder of Donna Cleary, the 22-year-old innocent mother tragically murdered at a house party in Coolock after a gunman indiscriminately opened fire on the house after being refused entry.

He was given a large amount of methadone because he gave “a creditable story” about using it and then died. His family feel the Gardaí are at least partially to blame and sought legal action against the State. Added to this, he had injuries from what was described as disproportionate force during his arrest, although it must be added that the State Pathologist said these had nothing to do with his death.


Terence Wheelock


Then there is the tragic death of Terence Wheelock. Initially arrested for being involved in a suspected car theft, he died after being in custody in Store Street. The official version of events say he tried to hang himself in his cell but the actions by the Gardaí are at best careless after this and raise serious suspicion. They told his family that he had been taken to St James’ Hospital when in fact he was taken to the Mater, within walking distance from the family home. When they finally arrived, the top he had been wearing had gone missing. After consistent pressure from the family it later turned up, blood stained. The blood was forensically examined and it was to found to be likely that of one of Terence’s family members. What is going on here?

The Wheelock family claimed to be the victims of intimation by the police force because they simply wanted answers about their relative’s death. There was also allegations of sexual assault and the bruising on his body would suggest he was the victim of a beating. Store Street has a really dubious record when it comes to custody and numerous young men have made allegations of being beaten whilst there.


Brian Rossiter


The most incredulous of these deaths in custody is that of Brian Rossiter. I don’t have time to go into all the details of this one, but even a brief summary raises alarm bells. The 14-year-old was arrested for being disorderly. He later died after being in police custody. Initially, the narrative was he took a huge number of E tablets and that was the cause of his death. The snag here was his toxicology report came back clean for that or anything else that may have caused his death. Then it changed to manslaughter as he had gotten into an altercation some days before and the Gardaí tried to push this story. Again, this fell down and Brian’s assaulter, Noel Hannigan, was cleared of manslaughter four years later. That case actually bypassed the DPP interestingly enough.

Other irregularities about the case include, the scene not being preserved and thus evidence being destroyed, valuable evidence going missing, blood being found on Brian’s clothing, his illegal detention in the first place, and his two friend’s claiming they were assaulted by the Gardaí and they believed Brian had been, too. It’s almost too incredible to believe that the Gardaí don’t understand the importance of chain of evidence as this is a large part of their job. In both cases, in counties miles apart, we have Gardaí unable to provide evidence in the investigation of someone’s death. Like the Wheelocks, Brian’s father Pat claimed he had been intimated and the victim of a smear campaign. I would urge anyone that has read this far to look further into this story and this article is a great place to start.


The Morris Tribunal


Somebody that took an interest in Pat Rossiter’s fight for justice was Frank McBrearty. He, with a number of others, was falsely accused of being involved in the murder of Richie Barron. Garda Detective Superintendent John McGinley was found to have committed “shocking perjury” in relation to this by the Morris Tribunal. Frank McBrearty Snr was paid €3 million by the State in a settlement. The Morris Tribunal is a shocking indictment of the police force in this country.

Dara Quigley


Dara Quigley was an anti-water charge and anti-austerity activist and journalist. Her family said she had a history of addiction and mental health issues. In April of this year, she was arrested under the Mental Health Act as she was walking down a Dublin street naked and in distress. CCTV footage of this was later uploaded to a WhatsApp group shared by Gardaí and from this it was put on Facebook and viewed over 100,000 times. A few days later, on 12th April, Dara took her own live.

This was an egregious case of gross misconduct by the Gardaí. The Garda in question was suspended with pay. A disgrace. If this example of public humiliation is not in line with Fascist tendencies, I’m not really sure what is. This degradation of a person they viewed as lesser is typical of the hierarchal obsession that was a hallmark of 20th Century Fascist movements.


Other Notable Mentions


The Garda whistleblowers of course deserve mention. Although the claims of one of these whistleblowers was dismissed by the Disclosures Tribunal, it does not take away from other allegations with the most serious of these is that Gardaí are colluding with drug dealers in this country. The violence endured by the Shell-to-Sea campaigners, claims that Gardaí committed perjury during the Jobstown trials and so many, many more.


To Conclude


While this isn’t an attempt to besmirch the profession of policing, looking at this evidence, and this is really only touching on the surface, the organisation in charge of policing in this country has repeatedly shown it is not fit for purpose. This is not to say that there are not great Gardaí out there, the detectives in the Elaine O’Hara murder investigation come to mind, but their is a corrosive culture there at the upper echelons that is toxic and ironically stopping them from doing actual police work. This is not unique to Ireland, the case of Sean Suiter in Baltimore is a great example of that. History always leaves a mark and much of it is entwined. Garda whistleblowers and the Catalan independence movement. Unlikely bedfellows, but that’s the problem with history; it has an awful habit of lingering longer than it needs to.


Join the debate. Feel free to comment. You can also subscribe to the site and follow us on social media to stay in touch (on occasion, we are funny)

Facebook – Twitter – Instagram – Soundcloud – The Tube of You


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.