Lynch urged to act on Amnesty report into Garda 'heavy gang'

A 1977 Amnesty International report alleging ill-treatment of prisoners by gardaí made "disturbing reading", according to a memo…

A 1977 Amnesty International report alleging ill-treatment of prisoners by gardaí made "disturbing reading", according to a memo by one of taoiseach Jack Lynch's senior officials. Amnesty sought an "impartial investigation" into their report, which looked at 28 cases of allegations of maltreatment while in police custody that were backed up medical and other evidence.

Having read the report, Mr Lynch's private secretary F Murray said it would "undoubtedly be of considerable embarrassment to the government if the Amnesty report were published at this stage without an inquiry into the complaints elaborated on". He said the government might wish to consider either a formal or informal inquiry into the 28 cases.

Amnesty's secretary general Martin Ennals, in a letter to the taoiseach, said Amnesty was concerned about the "consistency of the allegations" made to its delegates and the "detailed reference to many individual cases".

The report said that over a period of 18 months the same police officers had been mentioned as being "involved in maltreatment of suspects in reports made at different times in different parts of the country".


Amnesty was told by several lawyers that some members of the "ordinary Garda force" had been concerned about the interrogation methods employed by detectives who travelled from Dublin to question suspects.

The report spoke of "systematic maltreatment" and said it appeared that some detectives specialised in the "use of oppressive methods of extracting statements".

Earlier in the year allegations of ill-treatment were levelled against the gardaí by The Irish Times.

In a series of articles in February, the newspaper claimed brutal interrogation methods had been increasingly used against serious crime suspects. The articles alleged that a special group of gardaí, known as the "heavy gang", were mainly responsible.

Murray says Amnesty had intended to publish its report when completed to pressurise the former Fine Gael/Labour government. When the government changed in July it decided to forward the report to Lynch to try and influence the new government to hold an inquiry. He understood that Amnesty would allow a certain length of time to elapse and if no action was taken it would publish its findings.

He said that while acknowledging the report represented only one side of the story and that the observation of the Garda commissioner had not been received, it "nonetheless makes disturbing reading".

Murray said a person interviewed by Amnesty said he was given one cup of water during the day of his arrest, after a period of alleged maltreatment, and received nothing to eat or drink after this until the morning of his release four days later.

"It is difficult to accept that treatment like this could occur," Murray wrote.

"Another serious allegation made is that after the introduction of the Emergency Powers Act, arrested persons were not allowed a solicitor until after they had signed incriminating statements.

"This allegation is made in the majority of the Amnesty cases."

It was perhaps time, said Murray, to consider establishing a Garda Complaints Board.

"You will be aware that in the last Broadcasting Act (1976) a Broadcasting Complaints Commission was created to investigate claims against RTÉ. If we had something similar for the Garda Síochána the government or the minister for justice would not then have to deal with allegations of the kind now submitted by Amnesty," Murray wrote.

Edgar Deale, secretary of the Irish Association of Civil Liberty, also wrote to Lynch seeking an independent police tribunal.

"It is unsatisfactory that gardaí accused of misconduct are tried only by gardaí.

"We have been for some time greatly concerned about the growing number of accusations of brutality against members of the Garda Síochána.

"It is likely that most of these charges are baseless and are brought to cover up the misdeeds of the accusers.

"Such charges must, nevertheless, have some effect not only on the morale of our admirable police force but on public opinion," Deale wrote.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times