Tuesday, June 30, 2020

An Garda Siochana

The shocking murder of Garda Horkan while he was on patrol in the County Roscommon town of Castlerea is a grim reminder of the dangers that face all members of the Garda Siochana as they go about their duty as ‘guardians of the peace’. In two years’ time the Irish nation will celebrate the centenary of the establishment of the Garda Siochana. The Treaty which marked the end of the War of Independence provided for the disbandment of the R.I.C. on 20th February 1922. However, it was not until the 9th of February that Michael Collins arranged for a police organisation committee to meet under the chairmanship of I.R.A. veteran Michael Staines. Even before the committee reported on 27th February recruits were received into the new Irish police force to be known as Civil Guards at their temporary base in the R.D.S. Dublin. The R.I.C. originally intended to be disbanded on 20th February were still in charge of Dublin Castle until the 17th of August when the new Irish police force, the majority of whom were without uniforms, took control of what had been the centre of English policing administration in Ireland. The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries had earlier been disbanded and returned to England on 18th February. The Minister for Home Affairs was reported in the Irish Independent of 8th March 1922 as saying of the Civic Guards: ‘it will be the duty of the new force to protect the lives and the property of all Irish citizens irrespective of their political views.’ The anti-treaty followers led by De Valera through their spokesman Austin Stack, claimed ‘the setting up of this new force is not calculated to promote order, but rather suspicion, discontent and disorder.’ Stack’s intervention did not auger well for the acceptance of the new policing force by the substantial minority on the losing side of the Civil War. The Civic Guards to be renamed ‘Garda Siochana’ following a Temporary Provisions Act of 1923 were an armed force replicating in many ways the R.I.C. which they replaced. The strength of the R.I.C. prior to disbandment was approximately 14,000 men, while the new policing force comprised approximately 4,000 men including some former R.I.C. officers whose presence led to the infamous Kildare barracks mutiny of May 1922. It was following that mutiny led by former I.R.A. men who objected to former R.I.C. officers being promoted within the ranks of the Civic Guards that a Kevin Sheils chaired enquiry recommended that the Civil Guards be unarmed and that a politician should not head up the force. The resulting resignation of the first Commissioner Michael Staines led to the appointment of Eoin O’Duffy who would serve as Garda Commissioner for the next 11 years. The Kildare mutiny of May 1922 was followed a month later by the start of the Civil War. In the meantime armed Civic Guards have been dispatched to towns and villages throughout the 26 counties occupying where possible former R.I.C. barracks. However, up to 75% of the country’s R.I.C. barracks had been destroyed during the War of Independence so that in many towns, private houses were occupied by the Civic Guards. The new police force had no duties relating to the Civil War which were the responsibility of the 50,000 strong Irish army. Despite this the first fatal casualty of the new police force was a young County Laois man, Henry Phelan who was shot and killed in Mullinahone on 14th November 1922. He was the first of nine policemen killed in the first four years of the new force. The lawlessness which marked the Civil War years was again evident when two Gardai were killed on the night of 14th November 1926 by the I.R.A. That night the I.R.A. attacked 12 Garda barracks throughout the country. Attacks on members of the Garda Siochana continued throughout the 1930s and 1940s, resulting in the death of 21 Garda members between 1922 and 1949. Garda Horkan is the 89th member of the force to die in the line of duty since its foundation in 1922. As the son of a Garda sergeant whose first station was Cloonfad, Co. Roscommon, where the alleged killer of Garda Horkan last resided, I was particularly moved by the brutal killing of a lone Garda going about his duty. The Garda Siochana police by consent and have done so for almost 100 years, having replaced the R.I.C. whose members during the War of Independence were at first ostracised and later subjected to constant attack. It took a number of years for the Gardai to overcome the colonial legacy of the R.I.C. years and to gain acceptance within the communities they served. The 1950s and the 1960s were in terms of community integration the decades which confirmed that the Garda Siochana were respected and committed to serving the public. The members of today’s Garda Siochana have a very difficult crime detection and prevention role to play amongst the communities they serve. Garda Horkan’s death highlights the dangerous job every Garda undertakes every day. They are brave men and women and they deserve our gratitude, our respect and our cooperation.

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