1982: I was a garda. I was gay. I lost my job

‘I was a good policeman, thrown on the scrapheap. I want them to acknowledge the reason’

Liam was in his Dublin Garda station in 1982, about to hit the streets for his shift on the beat, when they came for him.

They ordered him out of the room he was in before stripping him of his uniform. And then it was over. He wasn’t a guard any more.

“It was in a passageway leading to the cells they told me I was being dismissed. I was to give them my uniform,” he says of the traumatic event 37 years ago when he was in his early 20s.

“There was no sense from them of ‘we’re sorry it’s come to this’ or ‘we don’t understand why it’s come to this’; absolutely nothing.

“The sergeant didn’t want me to leave, he wanted me to come back in for the duty the next day and he would fight it. But I just couldn’t do it; no. I didn’t want all these things laid bare.”

All these things laid bare? Liam was a gay man who had been keeping his sexuality secret.

“At the back of my mind, being the age I was at, I knew there wasn’t a hope of getting anywhere against these people,” he said of his sense of helplessness when shown the door.

“They took my tie; they took my tunic and my baton. I had no other trousers with me so they didn’t take them. And they didn’t take my notebook.

“I still have my notebooks from 1982. I’ve clung onto the hope there may be some streak of humanity in the upper echelons of An Garda Síochána and I might get my job back; but no.”

Liam – it is not his real name – finally gave up on the hope wrapped up in those notebooks when he reached his 60th birthday, beyond which nobody can serve in the Garda.

The day after he was ordered out of the station he says two other “gloating” Garda members came to his home demanding his spare uniform, his belt, torch and other items.

A gay man in An Garda Síochána in the early 1980s, he was shown the door just two days before his two-year probationary period would have expired; he was that close to making the grade.

Liam insists there can have been no other reason, other than his sexuality, for the dismissal. Just weeks before, he had been praised in his official assessment for his work ethic and output. At that point, senior officers had recommended he be retained after his probation period ended.

‘Liam’ says: ‘I see gardaí in the Pride march, with patrol cars decked out in the Pride colours. But I have no pride. They took that from me’
‘Liam’ still has his notebooks from 1982

The only issue he ever had, he recalls, was when he and a number of recruits consumed alcohol in a pub while they were in their first months as recruits. While they were off duty at the time, their visit to a pub was outside the designated period for recreation.

However, he says it was a very minor issue at the time and did not cause any problems for any of those involved, all of whom apart from Liam went on to become full-time Garda members.

****

When Liam joined the force, nobody knew he was gay. About 18 months into his service, a man named Charles Self was brutally murdered in Monkstown, Co Dublin. In the “witch-hunt” that followed this notorious crime, Liam’s sexuality became known to some of those investigating the case.

Within months of the Self murder, Liam was stripped of his uniform and shown the door. It was the beginning of 37 years of shame and lies, which he still lives daily. Liam is still not “out” to many people close to him.

How could he tell anyone back then that his sexuality had been discovered by Garda headquarters and that he’d been sacked for being “a queer”? That’s what you were in 1980s Dublin, he says – not homosexual, not gay but “a queer”.

One or two friends who heard the whispers from inside the Garda now kept their distance from him. Nothing was ever said. They were just friends one day and then gone from his life the next.

He told everyone else he’d left the force because “the guards wasn’t for me after all”. He told his lies well; a little too well as it turned out. Nobody around him, not his family nor most of his friends, seemed to suspect a thing. He had nobody to confide in so he confided in nobody.

But the lie swallowed him. As Liam saw it, the Garda effectively told him he was dirty and unworthy. That damaging message came to mould him. He took it into his heart and resolved to hide his sexuality for the rest of his days.

I see gardaí in the Pride march recently and with the patrol cars decked out in the Pride colours. But I have no pride. They took that from me

Liam, thought about coming out in The Irish Times today; maybe telling those closest to him first and then letting the media do the rest.

But after much consideration he says he couldn’t do it. “I don’t think I’d be comfortable admitting my sexuality because that’s what this has done to me,” he says.

“It’s life in the shadows and a mask up all the time. I’m over 60 years of age now and I really don’t know how I’ve stayed sane. I’ve lived a lie for the best part of 40 years.”

Liam has written many times to the Department of Justice and to Garda Headquarters. About three years after his dismissal he asked to be reinstated. The reply stated his “situation would not be altered at this time”. That gave him hope.

“If it wasn’t at ‘this time’, maybe it would be at ‘some time’,” he says of his desperate logic.

More recent correspondence has involved him seeking information that would officially confirm he was wronged. The recent case of former Garda member Majella Moynihan has encouraged him.

Moynihan spoke up about being charged in the 1980s with breaching the force’s disciplinary rules for having premarital sex with another garda, becoming pregnant and having a child. She gave her son up for adoption, saying she was put under pressure to do so, before eventually leaving the Garda early.

Majella Moynihan pictured in the grounds of RTÉ. Moynihan spoke on RTÉ’s Documentary on One about being investigated by gardaí when she became pregnant by a male member of the force. Photograph: RTÉ
Majella Moynihan in 2019. Photograph: RTÉ

Like Moynihan, Liam wants his official records from the time. He has his personnel file but there is nothing in it about why or how his time in the force ended.

“I just cease to exist,” he says of his file ending with letters from senior officers recommending he be retained in service at the expiry of his two-year probationary period.

In one appraisal, apparently during the Garda’s vetting procedure, there are remarks in his file about his “conduct and character” generally.

“Applicant is of excellent character and he has never come under the unfavourable notice of the gardaí. My inquiries show he is honest and sober,” it said.

Nearing the end of his probationary period, and when he had served a year and nine months in the force, the comments in his file from those officers who appraised him were clear.

“I recommend that his appointment be confirmed,” says one, advocating that Liam be retained as a Garda member proper after his probationary period expires.

Another comment at that time states: “Should make an efficient member, is fit for retention on the force.”

A section of the appraisal drawn up as a part of the process for recommending him, or not, to be retained after his probationary period, which all new gardaí still undergo, deals with “behaviour on and off duty”.

Every aspect of a recruit’s conduct – work ethic, punctuality, appearance, report writing, output on the beat – are assessed with grades A through E.

Most of Liam’s grades in the personnel file seen by The Irish Times are As. His lowest rating for any category is a B.

Another comment made after he had been in the Garda for about a year states: “Showing satisfactory progress with a high level of output. Very reliable in the performance of his duties.”

Though nothing appears about his service ending, the file chronicles in minute detail every other aspect of his training and work performance.

Liam believes there are other documents about his dismissal that were not given to him.

He now wants Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to acknowledge he was fired for being gay, to meet him and to apologise – as they have done for Majella Moynihan.

Liam has received replies from the department acknowledging his correspondence and suggesting a further search will be performed. A reply is awaited from Commissioner Harris.

It was just all about the ignominy of feeling that I didn’t get on in the guards, that the guards didn’t want me, that I was a nobody

In reply to separate queries made by The Irish for this article, the Department of Justice said it did not comment on individual cases, adding: “Any correspondence received by the Department is dealt with in accordance with the appropriate procedures.”

The Garda said it did not comment on its correspondence with “named individuals”. It added: “For privacy reasons An Garda Síochána does not comment on the details of an individual’s career in An Garda Síochána.”

Liam has been informed by an official in the Garda’s human resources department that checks have been carried out in the archives, including in Templemore, but that no records whatever on his time in the Garda have been uncovered.

He says this reply is at odds with replies in past years when he received his personnel file, containing records relating to Templemore.

In recent years some of Liam’s former colleagues have rallied around him; offering support and urging him to persist with his efforts to get closure. That support is a great comfort to him and is at odds with how lonely he felt 37 years ago when his time as a garda ended.

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In June 1980, Liam started his recruit training at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary. Twenty-six weeks later he was on the beat on the streets of Dublin.

“I was 22 years old, and I really liked it,” says Liam, recalling his first days in An Garda Siochána.

“It was a huge culture shock for me . . . Nothing prepared us for what we saw, in terms of the poverty and in terms of crime.” As he gained experience and street craft he could see the heroin problem in Dublin was much bigger than the authorities were acknowledging.

Charles Self was murdered in January, 1982. An English man working as a set designer in RTÉ, he was found dead at the bottom of the stairs at his home on the morning of January 21st, 1982. He had been stabbed 14 times. There was a slash wound to his throat.

Charles Self drawn by Dearbhla Kelly
Charles Self drawn by Dearbhla Kelly

The gruesome killing of an openly gay man and well known person about town in Dublin garnered a lot of media coverage, putting extra pressure on the Garda.

Liam recalls how, within the Garda, it was strongly suspected – on what evidence never became clear – that the answer to the murder lay in Dublin’s gay community.

“I feel (the Garda) carried out a witch-hunt into the gay community. Charles Self was known to frequent Burgh Quay, which was an area to pick up rent boys.

“So they confined a lot of the inquiry to the gay community. The investigation was aggressive, heavy-handed, done in a horrible way.”

Soon after the Self investigation began, gay men were reporting their concerns to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, saying gardaí had demanded they be fingerprinted and photographed and give statements.

“They claim that detectives have repeatedly called to their homes and places of work, causing them considerable embarrassment,” The Irish Times reported of the concerns expressed by gay men at the time, many of whom had kept their sexuality concealed from family, friends and colleagues.

Eamon Somers, president of the National Gay Federation at the time, said people were worried that information gathered by gardaí could be released to civil servants screening job applicants.

This latter point is effectively what Liam says happened to him: progression though his Garda probationary period was problem-free until his sexuality became known.

In the course of Self murder investigation gardaí monitored several pubs and clubs frequented by gay men: The Bailey on Duke Street off Grafton Street, Bartley Dunne’s on Stephen Street Lower and the Hirschfield Centre in Temple Bar.

Liam frequented the Hirschfield centre. He was still ill-at-ease with being gay but was taking his first awkward steps towards being open about it.

He feels now he was probably spotted by other members of the force going to the Hirschfield centre and that they passed that information on.

“I was ordered to parade in front of [a Garda officer],” Liam recalls. “From memory it was a small office. He was there in uniform. I was in my best tunic. He didn’t introduce himself to me. I saluted him.

“He asked me did I know why I was there and I said ‘no’. He said he was investigating alleged conduct that could bring discredit on the force.

I hadn’t committed any crime; the only thing I was guilty of was knowing Charles Self

“I asked him to explain; I was timid, scared. I was frightened. But he didn’t explain and he didn’t elaborate.

“He fingerprinted me. In fact, he was insistent on that. I was invited to make a cautioned statement. But I didn’t see the point in making a statement. What would I be making a statement about?

“He asked me did I know Charles Self and I told him I did. Then I knew why I was there. I had a suspicion, but that question confirmed it.

“I was never asked was I gay or if I participated in homosexual activity or if I frequented bars or clubs. It wasn’t against the law to be gay. It was against the law to engage in homosexual acts, but I wasn’t even accused of that.

*****

“When I went back to the station my sergeant asked me what it was all about and I didn’t really want to explain it to him and I didn’t tell anyone else about it.”

A month passed and while Liam continued with learning the ropes in the Garda he had become “consumed by this thing”.

He was then summoned to another Dublin Garda station where he says two detectives “interrogated” him, took his prints again and photographed him – like a criminal suspect.

“They were asking did I go to bars, did I go to clubs, was I gay, which I admitted; it was a fact. They were asking had I boyfriends. That went on for three quarters of an hour.

“It was heavy-handed. I told them that ‘yes, I knew Charles Self’, a very affable man. They asked me had I been in his house. I told them I hadn’t been.”

After it was over, he tried to dust himself down. He discussed what had happened with nobody inside or outside the Garda.

About six weeks after the second interview he went into work on a Wednesday evening to be briefed with the rest of his unit about their tasks for their shift that night.

Just before the briefing started two officers he had never had any dealings with came into his station and sought him out. They asked him to step out of the room he was in before his uniform was demanded.

Traffic in O’Connell Street Dublin circa October 1982. (Part of the Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection). Photograph: Independent News And Media/Getty Images
Traffic in O’Connell Street Dublin in1982.  Photograph: Independent News And Media/Getty Images

He cannot recall the exact words used. “It was just ‘that’s it, your time here is over,” he says. The symbolism of standing in his uniform one moment and then the officers demanding he surrender it was overwhelming at the time. He says it damaged him mentally.

“For about five years then I went off the rails, drinking very heavily. I was arrested one time for being drunk and disorderly.

“It was just all about the ignominy of feeling that I didn’t get on in the guards, that the guards didn’t want me, that I was a nobody.

“I remember doing up CVs after I left. I couldn’t get a job. People looked at your record and they saw you left the guards. People would assume there was something wrong with you. It was tough and it’s not getting any easier.”

After a period his life settled down, and while he has since run a successful business, not a day has passed without him wishing he’d had a Garda career and wondering what that would have been like.

“I look at my Garda personnel file,” he says leafing through it, “and I speak to my former colleagues and they tell it as it is. I was a bloody good policeman.

“But I was thrown on the scrapheap and now I want to know why. I want them to [acknowledge] the reason.

“I was disposable, I wasn’t treated as a human being, I wasn’t treated with dignity. I hadn’t committed any crime; the only thing I was guilty of was knowing Charles Self.

“I see gardaí in the Pride march recently and with the patrol cars decked out in the Pride colours. But I have no pride. They took that from me and I want them to acknowledge that much.”