Irish Republican News · December 29, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Reflecting on The Barron Report

By Fr Joe McVeigh

The Barron report shows how the politicisation of the Garda Siochana gained momentum in the early 1970s. I watched it happen. I was based in the Monaghan parish between 1971 and 1979. I saw how once friendly Gardaí became cold, silent and hostile to me and more especially to many citizens in Monaghan.

The attitude to republicans and anyone considered to be friendly with republicans changed very dramatically in the course of 1973 with the coming to power of the Cosgrave Fine Gael government in February of that year. The murder of Senator Billy Fox by the IRA on March 11, 1974 was a turning point. The Fine Gael-Labour coalition were determined to halt the growing support for Irish republicans and the IRA throughout the 26 counties. The antagonism towards republicans expressed by Connor Cruise and Cooney, the minister for Justice was quickly transferred to the Gardaí in each division.

The hostile and suspicious attitude of the Gardaí towards `northerners' living or visiting in the south led to very bad relations in Monaghan and in other towns along the border. It resulted, in the mid-seventies, in the harassment by some Gardaí of young people in Monaghan who might, in a fit of bravado, shout `up the IRA' as a Garda car was passing. The situation escalated and young people in Monaghan were arrrested and beaten. As a result many came to see the Gardaí as their enemies and the enemies of the people in the north.

The response of the Cosgrave government to the Dublin-Monaghan bombs in May 1974 shows to what extent that government saw the IRA as the chief enemy. The implication was that they were ultimately responsible for the bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. They did not bother to arrest and bring to justice those responsible.

The response of the Gardaí to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings was purely political as we now see. It was directed by Cosgrave, Cooney and company. It became more obvious at the funeral of Michael Gaughan in June 1974 and at the funeral of Frank Stagg from Ballina, county Mayo in February 1976 when they snatched his body and buried it in concrete.

Their attitude to young people in Monaghan, especially in one particular working class area, drove some into the IRA and to their deaths. I was deeply concerned about this but unable to even suggest that such a policy was operating at the highest level of government and the Gardaí.

The situation worsened with one Minister for Justice in Dublin vying to be more anti-IRA than the previous one. The Garda ``heavy gang'' arrived and got the green light to beat and harass people on suspicion. When I showed a senior Garda from Dublin photos of a young boy's bruises after being beaten by some Gardaí in Monaghan, he was visibly shocked.

In 1979, at the height of the protest in the H Blocks, I called for an end to Garda brutality against republicans and I was completely ostracised by the Gardaí and their supporters in the main political parties but especially in Fine Gael. The Garda withdrew their service of directing traffic on the main Monaghan-Dublin road after the Sunday mass in the Cathedral and as a group they (the Catholic members) refused to pay to the parish collection.

This led to serious tension between myself and the then bishop. My story is not that important here but the way the Gardaí behaved in these years is very important. The way that Fine Gael people behaved in these years is very important. The Gardaí became an almost totally political police force and it has not shown any signs of changing.

Now at last the truth is coming out, slowly but surely. There is a lot more to come. We need a lot more of the truth about what happended so that wrongs can be righted and justice will be done and the Gardaí can return to civilian policing.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News