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Encyclopedia > Gardai
A member of the motorcycle unit of the Garda Síochána.

Garda Síochána na hÉireann (English: "The Guardians of the Peace of Ireland"), commonly known as the Garda Síochána or simply the Garda, is the national police force of the Republic of Ireland. The force is headed by the Garda Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. The headquarters of the force are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.




As a force the term Garda is used, whilst the plural Irish word gardaí is used when referring to members of the force of the force collectively. The guards is also sometimes used colloquially. A female officer was once commonly referred to as a bangharda, but this term is less common now, and an officer, male or female, is usually simply called a garda.

An unarmed force

Uniformed members of An Garda Síochána do not carry firearms. However around 1,700 plainclothes detective Gardai do, as do members of the Special Branch. It is a tradition of the service that standard policing should be carried out in both rural and urban areas by uniformed officers equipped only with a wooden truncheon. This has been the situation since 1922 when the first Commissioner, Michael Staines, declared "The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people".

The Scott Medal

The Scott Medal for Bravery is the highest honour for bravery and valour which can be awarded to a member of the Garda Síochána. The first medals were funded by General Walter Scott, an honorary Commissioner of the New York Police Department1. To mark the United States link, the American English spelling of valor is used on the medal. The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána chooses the recipients of the medal, which is presented by the Minister for Justice.

In 2000, Anne McCabe, widow of Garda Gerry McCabe, who was murdered by the Provisional IRA while it was officially on ceasefire, accepted the Scott Medal for Bravery that had been awarded posthumously to her husband2.

Policing overseas

Since 1989 An Garda Síochána has undertaken United Nations peace-keeping duties. Its first overseas mission was a 50 strong contingent sent to Namibia. Since then the force has acted in Angola, Cambodia, Cyprus, Mozambique, South Africa and the former Yugoslavia. The Garda's first fatality was Sergeant Paul M. Reid, who was fatally injured while on duty with the United Nations UNPROFOR at "Sniper's Alley" in Sarajevo on 18 May 1995.


New Garda recruits salute the President, Tostal 1954

The Civic Guard was formed by the Provisional Government in February 1922, to replace the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and take over the responsibility of policing the fledgling Irish Free State. In August 1922 the force accompanied Michael Collins when he met the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin Castle3.

The Garda Síochána (Temporary Provisions), Act, enacted after the creation of the Irish Free State on the 8 August 19234, provided for the creation of "a force of police to be called and known as 'The Garda Síochána'". Under section 22, The Civic Guard were deemed to have been established under and to be governed by the Act. The law therefore effectively renamed the existing the force.

In Dublin, policing remained the responsibility of the capital's own local police force, the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) until 1925. In that year the DMP merged with the Garda Síochána, and since then the Garda has been the only police force in the state now known as the Republic of Ireland.

Garda commissioners

The first Commissioner, Michael Staines, held office for only eight months. It was his successors, Eoin O'Duffy and Eamon Broy, who played a central role in the development of the force. O'Duffy later became a short-lived Irish neo-fascist political leader of the 'Blueshirts' before heading to Spain to fight with Francisco Franco's Nationalists. Broy's fame grew in the 1990s when he featured in the film Michael Collins, in which it was misleadingly suggested that he had been murdered by the British during the War of Independence when in reality he lived for decades and headed the Garda Síochána from 1923 to 1938.

One later Commissioner, Bradford-born Edward Garvey was famously sacked by the Government of Jack Lynch in 1978 without reason, other than a vague claim that the government had lost confidence in him. He took and won an 'unfair dismissal' legal case. The case made its way to the Supreme Court which found the action of the government improper. This outcome required the passing of the Garda Síochána Act, 1979 to retrospectively validate the actions of Garvey's successor since he had become Commissioner 5. His successor in turn, Patrick McLoughlin, was forced to resign along with his deputy in 1983 over his peripheral involvement in a political scandal.

Allegations against the force

In the 1990s and early 2000s An Garda Síochána faced a series of allegations, including suggestions of corrupt and dishonest policing in County Donegal - which is the subject of a judicial inquiry the Morris Tribunal -, allegations that a small number of policemen had links with the Provisional IRA and that others mishandled the lead-up to and aftermath of, the Omagh Bombing by the Real IRA.

In 2004, an RTÉ Prime Time documentary accused small elements within the Garda of abusing their powers by physically assaulting people arrested. A retired District Justice suggested that some members of the force had committed perjury in criminal trials before him, while a Minister of State (junior minister) accused police in one instance of "torture". The Garda Commissioner accused the television programme of lacking balance.

The Prime Time documentary followed hot on the heels of footage published by the Irish Independent Media Centre showing attacks by Gardai on Reclaim the Streets party-goers 6. The subsequent acquital of one of the Gardai shown in these pictures has done much to undermine confidence in the legal system in the Republic of Ireland.


  1. See Walter Scott biography (http://www.esatclear.ie/~garda/wsbiog.html) from Esatclear.ie (http://www.esatclear.ie)
  2. See: "Murdered garda hero honoured" (http://ted.examiner.ie/archives/2000/july/7/current/ipage_5.htm) from the Examiner (http://www.examiner.ie).
  3. According to Irish constitutional theory he met the Lord Lieutenant to accept the surrender of Dublin Castle. However, as far as the British government were concerned, the purpose of the meeting was for the Lord Lieutenant to formally appoint Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government.
  4. See: Full text of the Act (].
  5. See: Full text of the Act (http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1979_16.html).
  6. See: "Garda Goes Berserk" (http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=3780) on indymedia.ie (http://www.indymedia.ie).

See also

External links

  • Official site - An Garda Síochána (http://www.garda.ie)
  • History of Irish police forces (http://www.esatclear.ie/~garda/)
  • Garda Complaints Board (http://www.oasis.gov.ie/justice/general/garda_siochana_complaints_board.html)
  • Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin (http://www.archeire.com/buildings_ireland/dublin/northcity/phoenix_park/garda.html)
  • Garda Museum, Dublin Castle (http://www.esatclear.ie/~garda/museum.html)
  • Garda Síochána Bill, 2003 (http://www.feargalquinn.ie/bills/2003/garda(h).htm)
  • Garda Síochána mission statement on community policing (http://www.business2000.ie/cases/cases/case2.htm)
  • Morris Tribunal (http://www.morristribunal.ie)
  • Report on the controversial shooting by armed detectives of John Carthy (http://longford.local.ie/content/31247.shtml)

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