Mary Boyle’s disappearance and the 40-year fob-off

Broadside: Reporter Gemma O’Doherty believes there was political interference in the Garda investigation into the death of a child, and she just won’t let it go

On April 26th came the joyous news that an inquest jury in Warrington had upheld a truth the British establishment had long sought to deny: that 96 Liverpool FC fans had been unlawfully killed in a crush at Hillsborough in 1989.

Also on April 26th, two women many in the Irish establishment wish would go away quietly travelled to its heart in their ongoing campaign for the truth about a little girl who disappeared 39 years ago.

Mary Boyle was six when she disappeared from her grandparents' home outside Ballyshannon in Co Donegal, on March 18th, 1977. Hers is Ireland's longest-running missing-child case, and she has been described in the Guardian as "Ireland's Madeleine McCann".

Her twin, Ann Doherty, who has travelled to Stormont, Westminster, Brussels and Washington DC in her campaign, has been accompanied over the past two years by journalist Gemma O'Doherty.


On April 26th they met Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for almost two hours in Leinster House. He was accompanied by one of the party's new TDs, barrister Jim O'Callaghan. They were also accompanied by Margo O'Donnell, sister of the singer Daniel.

Ann says she and her family know who killed Mary. She says the man, who is alive still, was well known to her and her twin. She says during the course of the 1977 investigation that a politician called the investigating gardaí and told them not to arrest or further question the chief suspect. She says her faith in the gardaí to bring the case to a truthful conclusion is gone.

Ann, Margo and Gemma urged Martin to initiate a Dáil debate on the serious allegations about the Garda handling of the case, and to support their call for an inquest into Mary's death. A Fianna Fáil spokesman said after that "All of the claims made to Deputy Martin have been forwarded to An Garda Síochána and the Garda Ombudsman", despite the fact the women have no faith in either of these organisations.

The women were deflated after the meeting. They felt fobbed off.

Ann commented: “You wonder what you have to do to get justice in this country.”

Margo said to me after the meeting: “We would have got nowhere with this if it wasn’t for Gemma. She’s the only one who looked at this and saw there is a case to answer here, for justice for that wee girl.”

Penalty points scandal

The establishment does not like Gemma O’Doherty.

Her former employer, the Irish Independent, made her compulsorily redundant in August 2013. This happened in the aftermath of her investigation into the Garda wiping of penalty points brought her to the front door of the home of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.

Editor in chief at Independent News and Media, Stephen Rae, called her a "rogue reporter". She was made redundant a few weeks later.

Her investigative instincts appear to have been vindicated, however, and Callinan retired in March 2014 because, he said, “recent developments were proving to be a distraction from from the important work that is carried out by An Garda Síochána”.

Gemma received an abject apology at the resolution of her defamation suit against Independent News & Media in January last year. The organisation and Rae acknowledged “the exceptional work of multi-award winning investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty” and accepted she had “acted at all times in a professional and diligent manner”.

I have heard political advisers say of her: “She just won’t let it go.” In other words, she’s not easily fobbed off.

What she sees in the Mary Boyle case is political interference in a Garda investigation into the death of a child, and she just won’t let it go.

She has made a documentary, Mary Boyle: The Untold Story, in which interviews with two of the original investigating gardaí appear to vindicate her investigative instincts.

Seeking an inquest

Ann is also seeking an inquest into Mary’s death. Donegal coroner Denis McCauley has said he is liaising with the Department of Justice on the issue. The Department says: “The question of holding an inquest is a matter for the coroner.” One almost feels fobbed off.

Last week two TDs – Clare Daly and Róisín Shorthall – tabled parliamentary questions to the acting Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, calling on her to “order the establishment of a commission of inquiry” into the case.

The Minister replied: “The disappearance of the person in question remains the subject of an ongoing Garda investigation and I am advised that the Garda Review Team is endeavouring to advance the investigation and that all avenues of investigation are being pursued in this regard. In these circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the case, nor would the establishment of a parallel Commission of Investigation be warranted.”

Some might say they were fobbed off.

“You wonder what you have to do to get justice in this country,” said Ann.

It’s time to stop fobbing her off. It’s time a “wee girl” called Mary Boyle got justice.