The killing of Garda Tony Golden

Circumstances necessitate a revision of Garda policing strategy

The role of An Garda Síochána is to act as guardian of the peace and to operate as a mainly unarmed police force in enforcing the law, ensuring public safety and protecting the State. Although the daily hazards of the job – the danger to life and limb – have increased in recent decades, they are fully accepted by members of the force, who are well trained and equipped to handle such challenges.

Nevertheless, the possibility of a garda member receiving a serious life-threatening injury in the course of duty has become an ever greater risk of modern policing. The fatal shooting of an unarmed police officer is, however, still a very rare event in this country – which has made the cold-blooded murder of Garda Tony Golden all the more shocking.

He was shot dead when, in responding to a request to intervene in a domestic row, he called to a house in Omeath, Co Louth. The garda killer, Adrian Crevan Mackin, who was out on bail and awaiting trial for membership of a dissident republican organisation, then turned his gun on himself. He had earlier shot and seriously wounded his partner, who remains in a critical condition in hospital.

The latest garda murder brings to 88 the number of members of the force that have died on duty since the State's foundation in 1922. And of that number, some 30 gardaí have been shot, or violently killed. Almost three years ago, and also in Co Louth, Det Garda Adrian Donohoe was murdered, having tried to stop a credit union robbery at Bellurgan. As yet his killers have not been brought to trial.


The latest tragedy raises some obvious questions, one of which was asked by a former minister for justice, Dermot Ahern, who lives in Co Louth. He has questioned how the killer of Garda Golden was able to keep a handgun at his home.

Policing necessarily involves making fine judgments, and reaching quick decisions: in this case deciding how to respond to a request for help, and assessing the likely difficulties – the risk of violence – that may be faced in dealing with a domestic dispute. Had Garda Golden suspected that he was likely to encounter lethal violence, then he could have requested armed support before going to the house in Omeath. Clearly, he did not. And he has paid with his life for his brave effort to deal with a domestic dispute.

By doing so, as Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said Garda Golden – who leaves a wife and three children – "laid down his life while protecting the community … he was so proud to serve". A second murder in less than three years in a border county, both ruthlessly carried out by dissident republicans, suggests the need for a major revision of policing strategy in Co Louth.