An able commissioner in a time of need


Patrick Malone, who died on January 31st aged 90, led the Garda Siochana through the critical period in the early 1970s when the Northern Troubles threatened to spill over into the Republic with potentially catastrophic effects. Under the cross-Border co-operation terms of the 1974 Sunningdale Agreement that led to the brief power-sharing Executive, he became the first Garda commissioner to officially meet the chief constable of the RUC, Sir Jamie Flanagan - in Belfast on January 1974. As well as dealing with the deteriorating security situation and accompanying rash of street protests and attacks on his own force, Patrick Malone oversaw the introduction of the fundamental changes to the force that emerged from the 1970 commission led by Judge Conroy.

Patrick Malone's tenure in office from 1973 to 1975 followed the political crisis surrounding the Arms Trial. He had to resist political interference by government in the running of the force. But he was fortunate in having the respect of the then minister for justice, Paddy Cooney. Patrick Malone, who was born on August 10th, 1910, came from a farming family at Riverstown on the Cooley Peninsula in Co Meath. His mother's family, Clarkes, also came from Co Louth. He attended the Christian Brothers in Dundalk before joining the Garda in 1933.

He met and married his wife, Joan (nee Thompson), whose family were the local undertakers, while he was based in Waterford. i on promotion the family was uprooted and moved. each time the husband was promoted. There were seven such moves for the Malones and their six children, Margaret, Mary, Brian, Stephen, Paddy and Robert (who died in 1987). The family also lived in Naas, Riverstown and Enniscrone in Co Sligo, Letterkenny and Ballyshannon in Co Donegal, Cork and, finally, Dublin.

In 1959, he was promoted and moved to Cork as superintendent in Union Quay. He subsequently became chief superintendent in charge of the old Cork East Riding Division, which has since been split into the two divisions of Cork City and Cork East.

He was transferred to Garda headquarters and placed in charge of C3 - now the Crime and Security Division - overseeing all anti-crime and antiterrorist operations. He became head of C3 just as the Troubles broke out. One senior officer remembers a lecture on prosecutions from Patrick Malone. "He used to close his eyes and he could recount an Act from A to Z. He had a remarkably precise mind. He had a daunting knowledge of the law. He was a tough and very able officer."

At the time he was rising through the force, life for gardai was tough. There was no pay for overtime. Gardai had only two days leave a month if they were on day-time duties. On night shifts they were allowed four days leave. However all leave could, and often was, cancelled at the discretion of the sergeant in charge. Leave, under the regulations was granted "providing the exigencies of the service allow it".

The Conroy Commission gave gardai the "right to go home", in other words introduced set hours for a working week.

Up until the Conroy report, Garda management still resembled the model left by the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Constabulary. Under the commissioner there was one deputy and two assistants. There are now two deputy and 10 assistant commissioners. The Garda came under tremendous political pressure as a result of the security crisis in the North. There had already been political intervention ending in the 1971 Arms Trial when the Garda found itself arresting and prosecuting members of government.

The pressure from government for the Garda to become more heavily involved in the Northern issue continued. Patrick Malone had to steer a course between the security requirements of government and the maintenance of the Constitutionally directed civic duties of the Garda Siochana.

As it was the Garda, under his direction, did engage in an amount of intelligence gathering in the North. This entailed unofficial contact with the RUC and British army, which produced valuable intelligence but which was kept secret from government. Patrick Malone also had to rapidly modernise and equip a force which had scant equipment, transport, communications equipment and forensic resources.

It was a tribute to his reputation for impartiality that he was appointed to Judge Barra O Briain's committee of inquiry into allegations of ill-treatment of suspects in Garda custody during 1976 and 1977. The committee's report recommending that tough safeguards be put in place to protect prisoners from ill-treatment angered Garda representatives and the government. He is survived by five children, Margaret, Mary, Brian, Stephen, Paddy. His wife Joan and son Robert predeceased him.

Patrick Malone: born 1910, died, January 31st, 2001