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Capturing our History - An Garda Síochána – The Challenge

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

We as members of the Garda Síochána (AGS) have the proud experience of serving the community since the foundation of the State. Regrettably many of the voices, which spoke to 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 Their legacy lives on in the minds and hearts of many and is recalled in historical documents and media reports.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, 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. Jim Herlihy and others have made outstanding contributions to this field of research. This same scope has not been applied to the history of the AGS 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 in a History of the Garda Síochána is well worth 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 model was chosen?

The foundation of the Garda Síochána (AGS) in 1922 resulted from the bloody War of Independence and the Force had to exist through the equally bloody Civil War, which followed. Also, the Dublin Metropolitan Police continued as the civil police force for Dublin until 1925 when it was amalgamated into the 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. Training for many of their officers was conducted at Phoenix Park. The ethos of AGS is founded on the principle of policing by consent, which is in contrast to the colonial model.

Mawby[1] 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 Indepedence and the Civil War.

Forming Storming Phase

The initial foundation of the AGS was a fractious affair with a full blown mutiny in the Kildare Training Depot and armed factions on the verge of direct combat. Michael Staines the first commissioner resigned as a result of this mutiny but it was he who also penned the enduring aspiration.

“The Civic Guard[2] 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 AGS 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.

[1] Mawby, 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 [2] Later An Garda Síochána.


There are many different themes to be followed in research, including the following,

Unarmed/Armed, Appointing Commissioners/ Sacking Commissioners, Marched to the Pope, Control by Government, Labour Disputes/Reduction in Pay, Taca Síochána/The Emergency, Garda Compensation/Gardaí Murdered, Dealing with Subversives, Replacing the Old Guard, Crime Ordinary/Crime Subversive, Garda Vote/1960, Ringing the Changes, Challenge of Modernity, Anticipating the Future, Acceptance, A Service not a Force.

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 (Garda Retired Association) 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 AGS 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 AGS itself and written with that perspective in mind. In 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.

The Troubles Generations[1]

There is a strong belief amongst colleagues that the contribution made by the AGS 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 United Kingdom. In the republic medal wearing is not necessarily part of our DNA but the desire for recognition for service rendered is overwhelmingly justified.

The first garda to die the course of the “troubles” was Garda Richard Fallon who was killed on April 3rd 1970 during a bank raid in Dublin. The GSRMA has taken action in conjunction with Garda Fallon’s family to ensure that his sacrifice will be remembered. A memorial plaque will be unveiled on the exact fiftieth 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 and Domestic Innovation.

The AGS is well recognised and respected internationally. This has been due to participation in various United Nations and European Union missions and other with other international bodies. There has been long standing cooperation with Interpol and Europol and intelligence agencies. Cooperation with law enforcement world-wide 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.

Our Story

This story is our story and needs to be recalled and recorded with that perspective in mind. Most commentary or analysis on the AGS has been conducted by interested observers but rarely members of the AGS 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 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 the 16th May this year in the spirit of remembrance and recognition.

[1] 1968 -1998 From Civil Rights to Good Friday Agreement

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