Able garda whose career ended abruptly

Joe Ainsworth: May 17th, 1927 - November 5th, 2015

Joe Ainsworth, who has died aged 88, was a creative and sometimes brilliant career policeman who seemed destined to lead the Garda Síochána. But his career fell victim to political forces.

In 1982, Charles Haughey's Fianna Fáil government was riven by accusations of disloyalty to the leader. Clandestine monitoring of the phones of political journalists Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy failed to identify the enemy within.

Seán Doherty, a flawed minister for justice, asked Ainsworth to facilitate the recording of a conversation between two ministerial colleagues. Ainsworth complied and had the conversation transcribed.

When Garret FitzGerald became taoiseach in December 1982, the existence of that recording was common knowledge. FitzGerald and his minister for justice, Michael Noonan, sought the resignation of commissioner Patrick McLaughlin and deputy commissioner Ainsworth. McLaughlin later said: “When a government minister asked for something it was difficult [for a Garda officer] to refuse it.”

Challenging times

They were difficult and challenging times for the forces of law and order. In 1979 the IRA murdered Lord Mountbatten and three others. Supermarket tycoons Ben Dunne (1981) and

Don Tidey

(1983) were kidnapped for ransom. Three gardaí – Henry Byrne, John Morley and Seamus Quaid – were killed in 1980. Ainsworth insisted on having personal security. He got the nickname “Two Gun Joe” for his habit of carrying a Beretta pistol as well as the standard issue Walther semi-automatic.

Ainsworth had taken a leading role in equipping the Garda Síochána to respond to the IRA threat. Posted as barrack master at Garda HQ, with the rank of chief superintendent, he implemented an ambitious programme of modernisation. A new command centre began to take shape at Harcourt Square, Dublin. The first elements of a £5 million radio communications network were put in place and 18 armed taskforces were set up. Co-operation with the RUC was improved.

Ainsworth proved himself an efficient leader, setting the scene for his later role in building up C3, the intelligence and security branch, according to Conor Brady's Garda history The Guarding of Ireland.

In the dying days of the Haughey administration he was appointed to the newly created position of third deputy commissioner, joining incumbents Laurence Wren and Eamonn Doherty.

It became clear that Ainsworth had enjoyed direct access to Seán Doherty in his brief tenure as minister, bypassing Civil service channels and more senior colleagues. It also emerged that when RUC chief constable Jack Hermon had secretly visited the Garda depot to meet Ainsworth and another officer, Wren, who was senior to both, had not been informed.

Hermon visits

At his father’s funeral Henry Ainsworth, a detective, revealed that during the late 1970s, Jack Hermon “would come to our home for meetings, dinners, and to discuss strategies, and the combating of terrorism on this island and swapping intelligence” .

Thomas Joseph Ainsworth was born in Castlebar, Co Mayo in 1927. He served in the Local Defence Force during the Emergency and joined the Garda Síochána in 1946. His family had strong Fianna Fáil connections. He served in Longford, Kilkenny, Dublin and Cork, then returned to Dublin in 1962 until his retirement in 1983.

He was made sergeant in 1954, inspector in 1960, superintendent in 1964, chief superintendent in 1968, and assistant commissioner in 1979.

After retiring at 56, he served as chairman of the National Safety Council, and studied law. He read voraciously particularly about espionage and related matters, and compiled an extensive account of the events surrounding the end of his career but did not publish it.

His wife, Mary, predeceased him, and he is survived by his sons, Adrian and Henry, and his daughter, Regina.