Interviewed 8 September 2021
Retired Sergeant Tim Bowe joined An Garda Síochána on the 8th of May 1968 and served until 2004. He is a native of County Tipperary where his family are steeped in the GAA. His grandfather, Ned Bowe was a member of the Tipperary hurling team that won the first All Ireland in 1887. Here, Tim speaks about the ‘Dowra Affair’, an incident in Fermanagh in 1982, involving the arrest of James McGovern, who was due to appear in court, after alleging he was assaulted by Garda Thomas Nangle. Nangle, was the brother-in-law of the then Minister for Justice, Seán Doherty. It was alleged that AGS had McGovern arrested by supplying false evidence to the RUC, suggesting McGovern was involved in terrorism.
JOHN O’BRIEN: Knowing now, Tim, that after some time, as it happens, you were qualified for promotion to the rank of Sergeant and indeed that came to pass and you were posted, I think, up to Dowra Co. Cavan, Tim, how did that work out for you or was there anything interesting that sticks in your mind from your time in Dowra?
RETIRED SGT. TIM BOWE: Well you’re right. My first posting as Garda Sergeant took me a distance from Cork of 225 miles. I went to Dowra in Co. Cavan which is on the Cavan/Leitrim border. There were three gardaí there in the station at the time that Garda Kevin McMahon and Garda James Kerns from Sligo, a Sligo football, and Gerry Hiern. Now next door to us that sticks in my memory, next door to the garda station was the courthouse. The courthouse was a fine imposing building. While talking about the courthouse, while I had no involvement whatsoever in a case that became known as the Dowra Affair, I was an eyewitness to the court case in question. The case I was associated with, there was an assault incident that occurred at the Bush Bar in Blacklion, Co. Cavan in December ’81. Subsequently, the DPP issued a summons against a Garda Thomas Nangle who was based at Blacklion then. The injured party in the case was James McGovern and he lived across the border, just a couple of hundred yards across the border in Co. Fermanagh. The summons was listed for hearing at Dowra District Court which would be 17 miles south of Blacklion.
Now shortly after my arrival at Dowra Garda Station, the case against Garda Thomas Nangle was adjourned on a number of occasions. Now Garda Nangle was a brother-in-law of Sean Doherty who was the then Minister for Justice. In July of 1982 the District Justice John Barry in Dowra Court, he agreed to a defence application to have the case adjourned, but he recorded publicly that it was being adjourned preemptory for hearing on the 27th of September 1982. That meant the case had to go ahead on that date. Well when that case was listed for hearing on that date, the interested injured party, James McGovern, was not present in court when the court list was read out. The case was then put back. His case was put back to the end of the court that day to facilitate someone that might be turning up late. During the morning, during the morning a phone call was received at Dowra Garda Station with a message that James McGovern was unable to attend Dowra Court. Now at around 1pm the court list was almost completed and the case against Garda Thomas Nangle, who was on suspension in court that day, it commenced. The injured party was not present when his name was called so the Prosecuting Officer called the other witnesses in the case and they gave their evidence. At the end the clerk called a final time for the injured party, James McGovern, and there was no reply.
The defence solicitor that day was Kevin Doherty. He was a brother of the Minister for Justice. He asked that the case be dismissed. Now giving his verdict Judge John Barry said that:
“For whatever reason, the best evidence is not before the court and I am therefore dismissing the summons against Garda Thomas Nangle.”
Within 24 hours the national media established that James McGovern was arrested by the police in Northern Ireland on the morning of the Dowra court case and he was held for questioning at Enniskillen Police Barracks. That prevented his appearance in court.
Investigations followed into what occurred. The Director of Public Prosecutions later challenged the District Justice’s decision, but the High Court held the Judge was entitled to proceed to hear the case even without the main witness in attendance. Garda Thomas Nangle, he died in December 2008, and of course need I want to say is that Judge John Barry, it was his last appearance at Dowra District Court because he was retiring from the bench within a couple of weeks from that date.