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“An Garda Síochána”

A brief history of the Garda (Ireland’s Police)

In Ireland law enforcement duties are the responsibility of the “Garda.” Officially they are called “An Garda Síochána” (pronounced: On GAR-dah Shee-oh-CAHN-nah) Irish for “The Guardians of the Peace.” An individual officer is a Garda, multiple officers are Gardai.

For hundreds of years laws were enforced by the local sheriff. They were appointed representatives of the crown and were primarily charged with enforcing court orders and protecting the property and wild game of landowners. Today in Ireland the sheriff acts as the agent of the courts and is the primary bailiff for the civil court system. Unlike in the U.S., the sheriff is not responsible for the enforcement of criminal laws.

In 1816 the English Parliament, acting at the request of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Robert Peel, formed the “Peace Preservation Force“ in Ireland. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the slang term “Peelers” was used to denote the police. In England they were called Bobbies (both named for Robert Peel). A few years later, in 1822, this group became the Irish County Constabulary. The units were set up independently on a regional basis throughout Ireland. In 1836, these organizations were consolidated into one unit called the Irish Constabulary, later renamed the “Royal Irish Constabulary” or the RIC. 1836 also saw the establishment of the “Dublin Metropolitan Police” or the DMP. By 1900, the RIC had grown to around 11,000 officers stationed in about 1600 barracks scattered throughout Ireland.

During the fight for independence in the early part of the 20th century, there were many attacks on RIC barracks and on individual RIC officers while performing their duties. Eamon DeValera and the Sinn Féin “Government in absentia” declared that members of the RIC, and their families, should be shunned as “Agents of a Foreign Government”. Because of these actions, there were many resignations from the RIC. In 1920 the British Government raised a force of mercenaries to assist the RIC in their duties. This unit, officially known as the RIC Auxiliary Force, was often called the “Black and Tans” or just “Tans” for its use of a mixture of Police (Black) uniforms and Army (Tan) uniforms. They were primarily comprised of WWI veterans having trouble readjusting to civilian life. They were poorly trained, improperly supervised and, though recruited to deal with the IRB (IRA), they became infamous for their cruelty in their dealings with the civilian population.

Following the ratification of the Irish Free State treaty in 1921 the RIC was disbanded. A new Police force was formed by Michael Collins and the new Irish government and was called “The Civic Guard”. In 1922, the Civic Guard, under the leadership of Michael Collins and Police Commissioner Michael Staines, marched through the gates at Dublin Castle, the seat of power for the British Government in Ireland, in a symbolic takeover of law enforcement in Ireland. A few days later Michael Collins was assassinated by Irish forces opposed to the treaty. The Civic Guard was renamed the “Garda Síochána na hÉireann”( the Guardians of the Peace of Ireland) on 8 August 1923. Two years later, in 1925, the Dublin Metropolitan Police were absorbed by and became a part of the new “An Garda Síochána”.

Today, the Garda Headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park section of Dublin with six regional headquarters, district headquarters and 703 substations (called Barracks) scattered throughout Ireland, each manned by 3 to 100 Gardai (officers). The Gardai are responsible for all law enforcement and state security duties in Ireland. Subdivisions and support services consist of Air Support Services, Dog Support (K9), Mounted Patrol, Water Patrol, Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigations (GBFI), Garda National Drugs Unit (GNDU), Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), Garda Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Garda Technical Bureau (Irish CSI) and other units.

While the Garda are the law enforcement agency for all of Ireland, many towns employ uniformed Traffic Wardens to enforce parking regulations. Today the respected “An Garda Síochána” has about 14,300 members with about 1700 armed detectives. In keeping with their proud tradition, uniformed Gardai were usually armed with only a baton (or truncheon) and today they are proficient in the use of the Asp Tactical Baton. Michael Staines (1885-1955), the first Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, wrote “The Garda Síochána will succeed, not by force of arms or numbers, but by their moral authority as servants of the people”.

By: John Stevenson — Emerald Society of Minnesota

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