Interviewed 22 September 2021
Conor Brady is an Irish journalist, novelist and academic, a former Editor of The Irish Times, an Editor of the Garda Review, a contributor on RTÉ and a former Commissioner of the Garda Ombudsman. He is also the son of Cornelius Brady, or Con Brady, who joined An Garda Síochána in 1923 and died in service in 1962. Superintendent Con Brady was one of the Garda Superintendents who shouldered the coffin of Kevin O’Higgins, the assassinated Minister for Justice in 1927. Conor wrote both Guardians of the Peace: The Irish Police (2000), as well as The Guarding of Ireland: The Garda Siochana & the Irish State 1960–2014 (2014). In this segment, Conor reflects on the Gardaí and considers the organisation and its challenges over the years.
MICHAEL DALTON: In the Garda force itself looking back over your involvement over the years do you think that we made major mistakes in things that should have been done differently?
MR. BRADY: Every institution makes mistakes. Where you are in real trouble is if you fail to recognise those mistakes and you try to cover them up and you don’t put in measures to prevent them recurring. That really I think is where, you know, it has been a very challenging experience for the force. It hasn’t all been down to the Guards themselves, a lot of it has been due to political control and lack of courage on the part of politicians and lack of vision on the part of civil servants. You know if you take some of the things that were uncovered by the Morris Tribunal in Donegal steps were taken to try to put them right but they were never implemented, the findings were never implemented. That was due to a succession of, I suppose, commissioners who felt they didn’t have the backing of Government to do it, civil servants who were intent on controlling the force, some politicians who were furthering their own agenda, and we could name those but we won’t and I suppose I would also have to say in my personal view representative associations which did not always recognise their responsibilities and did not always recognise the limits to what should be their influence and their power. That I think had the effect of crippling management in lots of cases.
Did the Guards make mistakes? Yes. You couldn’t name any institution in this State that hasn’t made mistakes and repeated the mistakes, but what I would say now is that while an awful lot of things have changed from the way they were in the ’50s and the ’60s and an awful lot has been lost, you and I talked about this earlier on, Michael, the Guards are in a pretty good position now by comparison with many police forces internationally as I see it.
If you look at the poor reputation now of law enforcement in the United States, look at it in Canada, look at in Australia, look at in many forces in England the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the standing in the community are strong, there is a really good intake of bright, well educated, socially aware and I think well motivated young men and women coming into the job. I think the relationship with the community while it is not the same as it was when you were serving or indeed when my father was serving the Guards are held in high standing now, as I see it. I think, for example, their role in the restrictions which were necessary in order to control Covid, their role in that I think earned them enormous respect, the combination of efficiency and tact and the gently gently approach I think combined with a quiet determination that the rules would be kept I think it has done the force a huge amount of good.