Interviewed 18 June 2021
In this section, retired Sergeant Eamon Hession speaks about his memories of being involved in the process of checking immigration following the introduction of a common travel area between Britain and Ireland. He refers to the SDU, which relates to the Special Detective Unit of An Garda Síóchána, which is the main domestic security agency of Ireland’s national police force, under the aegis of the Crime & Security Branch. Eamon reflects on the challenges of having to implement laws which resulted in people being returned to their home country.
MR. HESSION: Yeah, well, with the Immigration Bureau, I suppose tied in with the visit of John FK as well. Ehm, I was sent down to the port in Dun Laoghaire in ’96 to — the HSS was coming, they were setting up the HSS to come to Dun Laoghaire and I was sent down there with another Guard. So the Immigration Bureau was set up and, ehm, I knew nothing about immigration whatsoever, and the HSS used to come five times a day, the earliest 6:30 in the morning and the last at 12:30 a.m. So you had five boats. At the time, it was very busy and you would have a full boat, maybe 1,500 people on board. So Nora Owen, if you remember, was Minister for Justice at the time and she brought in a law that common travel-free area between Britain and Ireland, you were allowed to check people coming in. I mean, before that, everyone could walk in … And you didn’t need to do anything. But at the time, there was a lot of non-Irish coming and a lot of them were wrong, you know, they hadn’t their proper documentation. So we had to check them at the port. So we got great help at the time from SDU and the late Michael Corduff from your own division there was one of the main men that came out and we learned on the job. Did we set up an immigration unit then, there was three Sergeants, myself and two more Sergeants, and 16 Guards.
MS. DELANEY: Were you responsible for sending people back, if they weren’t properly documented?
MR. HESSION: Oh, yes. We tried to turn them around, if they weren’t properly documented on the spot, which was difficult because the boat was gone again in half an hour and sometimes you had to hold them over. And we went back on the boat with him back to Holyhead and, ehm, there was some days there you could refuse maybe ten or 12 in the height of the problem, you know. So ’twas interesting and that developed then to the John FK.
MS. DELANEY: So was that the Dun Laoghaire end of immigration? I remember the Immigration Bureau being founded, Pat Clavin coming into Harcourt Square.
MS. DELANEY: With Martin Donnellan and they were setting up a unit in there.
MR. HESSION: That’s right, that was the headquarters there, yeah, Martin Donnellan brought Pat Clavin in.
MS. DELANEY: And eventually then, things quietened down in Dun Laoghaire, the boats went down to two a day, so I left Dun Laoghaire, while officially attached to it, I went into Immigration and I enjoyed my, I suppose, seven or eight years before I retired in 2011 in Burgh Quay and we did a lot of, we did a lot of trips away to — I mean, I was in China a few times and I was in South Africa and we did charters, we did charters out to Nigeria, you might have twenty or thirty on a plane, and then eventually, we did it with, it was an EU mission, Ireland might head it this month and you would stop over in Madrid and you would stop over in London, you would stop over and you would pick up different people. So it was interesting times.
MS. DELANEY: Did you enjoy that, Eamon?
MR. HESSION: I did. I did and I didn’t. I felt sorry a lot of the time. That side of me, I feel sorry for people being sent back, you know, but I mean, there was the economic refugee and there was the genuine refugee. Some of them were, some of them were very genuine. I always remember being inside in Burgh Quay one day and the lads coming in with a nurse who was on duty, I don’t know which of the Dublin hospitals, and she had a son doing the Leaving Cert and herself and her son were sent back and ’twas terrible, really, I felt awful but it, but she was sent back anyway and about I would say three weeks later, the same nurse came back and was arrested again and brought back again. So she was nearly home as quick as I was, you
know. So that’s the — yeah, I feel sorry for them people but then there is the wrong ones as well, Rita, and you have to and I always did, deal, respect everyone.
MR. HESSION: And you know, deal with their case as you see it, you know. But then again, our hands are tied, Rita, as you know, it’s the Department of Justice that make the decisions and we enforce them as Gardaí. That’s what we do, you know.