How an excellent garda was dismissed over suspected ‘homosexual activity’

Garda Síochána’s dark forces in climate of 1980s apparent in its tracking of gay man

‘Liam’ retained his Garda notebooks from the 1980s, when he was let go over suspicions of being homosexual. Photograph: Alan Betson

‘Liam’ retained his Garda notebooks from the 1980s, when he was let go over suspicions of being homosexual. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Plucked from the bowels of the Department of Justice archive stores in recent weeks, a document from 1982 about the dismissal of a young garda offers a chilling insight into how the force’s dark arts were mobilised against one of their own when it became clear he was gay.

Last month that garda told his story for the first time in The Irish Times, using the pseudonym “Liam”. He was contacted last week by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who supplied documents about his dismissal that he had never seen before.

Harris also acknowledges Liam’s services were “dispensed of” due to “suspicions of your alleged involvement in homosexual activity”. The commissioner stopped short of apologising though assured him searches for more documents were under way and further contact would follow as soon as possible.

Now close to retirement age, Liam says he has never come out as gay because he felt so scarred by his treatment at the hands of An Garda Síochána almost four decades ago.

He joined the force in 1980 and all of his professional appraisals were positive as his two-year probationary period progressed, commending his work rate and professionalism.

However, then came the stabbing murder of RTÉ set designer and gay man Charles Self in a house in Monkstown, south Dublin, in January, 1982. The Garda became convinced the answer to his murder, which has never been solved, lay within the gay community in Dublin.

Hirschfield Centre

Liam always believed he had been spotted frequenting the Hirschfield Centre, a gay venue in Dublin’s Temple Bar, by detectives working on the Charles Self murder inquiry.

He was never charged with any criminal offence or disciplinary matter. When he was dismissed he was never told why. Instead, he was stripped of his uniform in the station where he worked and told to leave and that his time as a Garda member was over.

The personnel file he recently obtained from the Garda, after years of correspondence, stopped with the glowing performance appraisals, with no reference to his dismissal.

But the document, drawn up between February and May 1982, provided to him by Harris last week, confirms his movements within the gay community were observed, documented and used against him.

Back in 1982, homosexual acts were illegal, though it was not against the law to be gay.

In the document drawn up between February and May 1982, recommending Liam’s service be brought to an end just days before his two-probationary period ended, incidents as far back as January, 1981, were cited.

This is despite appraisals of his performance, character and conduct on and off duty through 1981 and into the first weeks of 1982 proving positive at the time and recommending his retention as a Garda member after his probationary period expired.

Suspect activities

But in the 1982 document, his being “found in the vicinity of Burgh Quay in the company of three other men” the previous year was deemed as evidence of his unsuitability to serve in the Garda because Burgh Quay was a cruising spot for gay men.

Being assaulted and having his car stolen at another location were also seen as suspect activities, as gay men were known to frequent that area.

The document, which was signed by then Garda commissioner Patrick McLaughlin, effectively confirmed Liam would be dismissed over his links to the gay community but it also praises his work as an “excellent” garda.

“On 7th May, 1982, the above named was interviewed by the officer in charge of the Charles Self murder investigation,” it says. “In reply to the various allegations concerning his presence and activities in areas known to be meeting places for homosexuals and male prostitutes he stated ‘just curiosity, that’s all’.

“In a further reply in relation to visiting a club organised by the National Gay Federation he stated it was ‘just to see what was going on there’. Apart from the aforementioned it is stated the member is an excellent worker, good timekeeper and maintains a high level of cleanliness.”

McLaughlin then adds: “I intend to dispense with his services at an early date.”

Nine months after signing off on Liam’s dismissal, McLaughlin resigned after the tapping of the telephones of two journalists, Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold.