Whatever McDowell says, garda family deserves an official inquiry

Garda Fallon’s family and the public have been denied access to the files on his murder.

Of course, when it comes to insensitivity, Michael McDowell is in a league of his own in showing equal tactlessness towards the families of both the first and last garda killed in the recent Troubles

MICHAEL McDOWELL has dismissed calls for an inquiry from the family of the late Garda Richard Fallon, who was murdered on April 3, 1970 in the aftermath of a bank robbery. “I am very satisfied that a very thorough investigation was done”, the Tánaiste told reporters in Cork on Monday.

“Gardaí were aware of the source of the firearms in question, and it was not a conspiracy involving any person at a political level”, he said. “It was low-life Dublin gangland people who sourced the weapons in Birmingham at the time”.

The Tánaiste added: “If anybody read all the files, they would say that it would not be a worthwhile expenditure of public funds to explore the possibility that the firearms came from somewhere else — they didn’t. There is no cover-up and there was no cover-up at the time”.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors is clearly not satisfied with the investigation into the Fallon murder because it called for an inquiry last Sunday. One who did see the files, Des O’Malley — a former Minister for Justice and a former leader and principal founder of McDowell’s Progressive Democrats —went on record in the Dáil as late as July 6, 2001 saying that “there is some reason to believe Garda Fallon may have been murdered in April 1970 with a weapon which had been part of earlier illegal arms shipments into this State. There is also reason to suppose that some senior gardaí suspected that a prominent politician was fully aware of this earlier importation and had turned a blind eye to it.”

In the interest of transparency and democracy, this matter should be cleared up. “Why must my family be satisfied with the minister’s word that everything was properly investigated?”, Finian Fallon asked in a statement issue following McDowell’s comments to the press. “Yet again we are faced with Mr McDowell ploughing his familiar furrow of ‘I know what I know’ and everyone is just supposed to take his word for it”.

Would McDowell take any other Tánaiste’s word for it? Remember in 1994 when Tánaiste Dick Spring said he examined departmental files in relation to the £1 million loaned to Albert Reynolds’ pet food company and found nothing improper. McDowell denounced the lack of transparency and called Spring “a morally brain-dead Tánaiste”.

This is not about money now; it’s about a man’s life. He was a husband and the father of five children, as well as a servant of the State. But the Tánaiste suggests that if they knew what he knows, they would “be reasonably satisfied that what I have said is true”. The Fallon family and the public have been denied access to those files. Of course, when it comes to insensitivity, McDowell is in a league of his own in showing equal tactlessness towards the families of both the first and last garda killed in the recent troubles. He said in 2004 that going to tell the widow of Jerry McCabe of the release of her husband’s killers would be “one of the happiest journeys I would have to make in my life”.

Maybe he was thinking that those men would only be released after he was firmly convinced the conflict was finished. Did he think that Anne McCabe and her children should also be as deliriously happy even though her husband and their father is dead because some Provo wished to fund the building of his house? If going to break that news to Mrs McCabe would be the happiest journey of his life, poor Michael must live an awfully sad life.

Having taken umbrage at McDowell’s latest outbreak of insensitivity, Finian Fallon was invited on to Morning Ireland, but the ensuing interview was certainly not one of that programme’s finer moments. Richard Downes began with an ambush.

“The Minister brought you into his office and showed you the files, and he said ‘Anybody reading the files’ — “He didn’t show me the files”, Finian interrupted. “He gave me a small extract from the file — “He gave you an extract from the file,” Richard Downes interjected. “He talked you through the file — “He didn’t talk me through the files”, Finian insisted. “He gave me a small extract from the Department of Justice files that hasn’t been released under instructions ... and he gave me an account of the investigation into my father’s death”.

“And you’re still unhappy?” — “Indeed I am. I think the minister has been disingenuous in the way he has been treating this subject”.

Finian continued: “There is a Department of Justice file that hasn’t been released yet, which I believe contains information that is very relevant to my father’s death. In addition, the record also shows that Saor Éire and the government of the day, the Fianna Fáil government of the day, were embarked on a common endeavour to import arms into Ireland.”

Downes than asked: “The minister and the details that surround this case would refute that, wouldn’t they?”

He was taking it upon himself to speak for McDowell. Presumably the minister was invited on the programme and should have spoken for himself.

“The facts are that the gun involved in the killing of Garda Richard Fallon came from Birmingham,” Downes continued. “It was a stolen gun, and a consignment of those guns came into the possession of the republican splinter group and that was the gun that killed Garda Fallon.”

“You are taking one and one and getting 11”, Downes complained. “You’re not getting two.”

FALLON insisted he just wanted to “put the matter in front of some sort of independent inquiry” to establish the truth. Somebody like Kathleen O’Toole, the former Boston police chief who was appointed chief inspector of the Garda Inspectorate, should be asked to inquire and report on the Fallon case, releasing as much of the files as possible.

Richard Downes suggested that opening the files would end the investigation. What twaddle! There is no longer any investigation; it is just a cover-up now.

There is clear evidence that Jack Lynch turned a blind eye to the attempted gun-running in late 1969 and early 1970. He did not take a stand until after the killing of Garda Fallon when he was faced with a virtual revolt by the gardaí and Peter Berry, secretary of the Department of Justice. It was a senior garda who leaked the information to Liam Cosgrave that led to the arms crisis.

“My father’s case has exact corollaries with a lot of the cases that have occurred in the North,” Finian Fallon told Brenda Power in an RTÉ interview in July 2004. “We are failing to examine what has been done to Irish people by our own government and leaders”.

“It is not about the bitterness of the past”, he said, quoting John F Kennedy. “It’s about learning lessons for the future”.

There are lessons to be learned about the relationships between politicians, the Justice Department and gardaí that are as relevant today as they were in the 1970s.

“It might be useful from an historical perspective to understand these dynamics a bit better and to understand them fully”, Fallon argued.

The Taoiseach suggested that his father was questioned as a suspect in the murder of Garda Fallon without any grounds. That would have been an abuse, and we should know about it.

This is not just about the Fallons or the McCabes; it’s about everyone. If the Taoiseach cannot ensure justice for his own family, what chance do the rest of us have?

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