Third garda in 7 years to be shot dead on duty

Third garda in 7 years to be shot dead on duty
The period between 2013 and 2020 has been the worst since the early to mid 1980s — during the height of the Troubles — for gardaí being shot or murdered doing their job.

In the space of just seven years three gardaí have been shot dead in the line of duty in Ireland.

Before then you have to all the way back to 1996, to the fatal shooting of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

The period between 2013 and 2020 has been the worst since the early to mid 1980s — during the height of the Troubles — for gardaí being shot or murdered doing their job.

“It’s shocking really,” said one experienced garda. “It’s something that is unheard of, in modern times.” 

There is a memorial in Dublin Castle for gardaí who have lost their lives in the line of duty. There are 88 names on a series of separate stone sculptures, and now an 89th will have to be added.

Of these 89 gardaí, up to 32 have been shot dead by another person and a further have two died from explosions.

“Most of the 89 deaths are accidents, like traffic accidents in the of duty, so when a garda is shot dead it is something particularly hard,” said the garda. “We have had three now in the last number of years. You have to go back 24 years to Jerry McCabe for the last time.”

The fatal shooting late on Wednesday of Detective Garda Colm Horkan follows the murder of Garda Tony Golden in October 2015 and the shooting dead of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe in January 2013.

Both Det Gda Horkan and Gda Golden were from Mayo and, along with Gda Donohoe, were all heavily involved in GAA clubs and active in local communities.

Like his two colleagues, Det Gda Horkan was doing an otherwise normal shift when he came across an individual on the Main Street of Castlerea, Co Roscommon.

The altercation that ensued between them ended when his killer got a hold of the detective's handgun and shot him repeatedly at close range.

Like his colleagues before him, Det Gda Horkan, with 24 years’ service behind him, was blind to what faced him as he did his tour of duty, when he left his home, where he lived with his elderly dad Marty, in Charlestown, Co Mayo.

Former Mayo footballer and close family friend John Casey told RTE news: "This time yesterday Colm was ready to go to work and he just didn’t come home, it's very hard to take."

Retired sergeant John Hynes, who worked closely with Det Gda Horkan, told on Joe Duffy: "He left the house yesterday at approximately 2pm — he watched some racing on TV with his dad, he said 'bye' to his dad, and he went off to work. That's the last memory his poor dad is going to have of him."

Garda Golden, who as a uniform garda was unarmed, was assisting a woman exit a domestic abuse situation when he was shot by her partner at her home in Omeath, Co Louth.

The Louth Garda Division was still reeling after the death of Det Garda Donohoe in Bellurgan less than three years previously.

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The killing of Det Garda Horkan comes at the poignant time for gardaí in Roscommon and their families, with the 40th anniversary of the deaths of two gardaí near Ballaghaderreen approaching.

Garda Henry Byrne and Det Gda John F Morley were shot dead by the INLA after a bank robbery on July 7, 1980.

It was just two years ago that a plaque was erected, and unveiled by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, to mark their deaths at Shannon’s Cross, just outside the village of Loughglynn.

And where Det Gda lost his life is near Henry Byrne Road and not far from John Morley Avenue

Of the estimated 32 gardaí that have been shot dead since 1922, 14 were killed in modern times, from 1970 on, and a further two died in bomb attacks.

Before that, you have to go back to 1946. Up to 18 gardaí were shot dead between the foundation of An Garda Síochána in 1922 and then, most of them in the 1920s and early 1940s.

Two gardaí were shot dead in the 1970s — Richard Fallon by republican groups Saor Eire in April 1970 and Michael Reynolds in September 1975.

Six gardaí were fatally shot by either the Provisional IRA or the INLA between 1980 and 1985, and a seventh garda — Sergeant Patrick McLaughlin was shot was local criminals in 1983.

Between 1985 and 1996 no garda was fatally shot in Ireland, while Det Sergeant Paul Reid was fatally shot in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1995.

The chairman of the Policing Authority Bob Collins said Det Gda Horkan's death was a “desperate shock” to his family and garda colleagues.

He said the now 89 gardaí killed in the line of duty was a “distinguished role of honour”, but not one people wanted to see extended.

“It is a testament that policing carries an implicit risk, that people who join the Garda Síochána put themselves at risk in a way the rest of us are not called to do,” he said.

The shooting dead of Det Gda Horkan is the first in Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’ time.

Speaking outside Castlerea Garda Station and before he visited the family, Commissioner Harris said Det Gda Horkan’s life was taken from him "for no good purpose" in a random and tragic act.

He said everyone in the force was "extremely shocked and saddened" and expressed his condolences to the family.

He said Det Gda Horkan was “a good garda out doing his duty” preventing crime and keeping people safe.

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