When a Garda is killed serving his country, it is a national tragedy. Today, we remember the brave young man from Sligo whose untimely death should have shaken the conscience of the country but, unfortunately, did not.
Patrick Gerard Reynolds, born on 16th December, 1958, came from Barroe, Ballinadoon, Co. Sligo. In his native Sligo he was known to everybody as Gerard. He attended Cloonagh National School and St. Mary’s College, Boyle. Patrick Gerard joined An Garda Síochána on 21st June, 1978.
In the early hours of 20th February, 1982, Garda Patrick Reynolds, with four other colleagues, arrived at a semi-derelict block of flats in Dublin’s Tallaght area. All were in uniform and were responding to an anonymous phone tip-off that three suspicious-looking men were carrying bags into a flat at Avonbeg Gardens. Garda Reynolds and his Sergeant checked the rear of the block. The remaining Gardai made their way to the flat identified by the anonymous caller. On entering the flat the Gardai found a gang of six heavily armed men and women counting the proceeds of a bank robbery which had taken place in Askeaton, Co. Limerick a couple of days previously. The gang members began to panic and attempted to flee from the scene. On hearing the commotion Garda Reynolds ran towards the flat itself when he was confronted by one of the gunmen, who fired at him twice, fatally wounding him.
Garda Reynolds was awarded posthumously the Scott Gold Medal on 29th September, 1983.
Retired Garda and author Tim Doyle recently published a book on the life and times of Jack Marrinan, a Garda from Clare whose efforts changed the An Garda Síochána for the better. He fought for employee rights, fair wages and increased safety measures, as well as established the GRA (Garda Representative Association) to support serving gardaí.
The extract below from Changing of the Guard: Jack Marrinan’s battle to modernise An Garda Síochána (Currach Books) highlights the emotions Jack Marrinan expressed in the Garda Review magazine regarding the debate surrounding the death penalty in Ireland, especially in light of the murder of Garda Patrick Reynolds.
Three decades encompassed the career of Jack Marrinan. In the quiet decade of the 1950s he was a diligent member at a south Dublin station, attending university in his spare time and generally impressing those whose path he crossed. The internal garda ferment of the 1960s saw him thrust into a leadership role, articulating the aspirations of a new generation of members of the force. The 1970s began with the Conroy report and far-reaching changes in the operational structure of the Garda Síochána and ended with a catalogue of dreadful deaths of members, which would continue into the following decade. In response to the Northern conflict garda recruitment had been stepped up, and as the 1980s began there were 5,000 members, or about half the total strength, with less than 10 years of service. At the same time Marrinan was aware that his own retirement was now firmly on the horizon. He could have gone in 1983, with 30 years under his belt, but had the option of continuing until he was 57 in 1989. That was his preferred option. He needed to tie up some very dangerous loose ends, given the pressure from terrorism. The new GRA structure was more representative than the GRB had been, that was clear enough, but he also needed to wean his members off the ‘all roads lead to Marrinan’ approach. Members and senior ranks alike could not forever rely on having him as Mr Fixit for all problems large and small.
There were matters of life and death: Abolition of the death penalty was back on the agenda. Since 1964 it had been removed from all crimes except the murder of a policeman on duty. Nobody had been hanged since 1954. In his brief period in office as Minister for Justice, Jim Mitchell had introduced the Criminal Justice Bill in the Senate:
‘For my part— and I believe I speak for the great majority of people— I am completely opposed to the taking of life, whether by the state or by anyone else, and I believe that the time has now come for this country to finish the job that was begun in 1964 and to remove completely from the statute book the right of the state to inflict death on any person for whatever reason in the future.’
Coming as it did after seven garda murders, the GRA executive committee passed a motion recommending that capital punishment be retained for the murder of gardaí acting in the course of duty. Marrinan insisted strongly that a largely unarmed force needed the protection of the death penalty as a deterrent to the murder of members.
The death of Garda Patrick Reynolds, shot in the back at Avonbeg Gardens, Tallaght, when he and three other gardaí disturbed a gang counting the proceeds of a bank raid, came a few short months after the capital punishment debate began. Jack’s angry ‘no time for bleeding hearts’ editorial was published in the Garda Review in February 1982. It gives a good account of the frustrations felt by members of the force, and also of what the author could be like when the gloves came off.
‘Patrick Reynolds was an unarmed garda in uniform duty when he was shot in the back, a few hours after midnight on February 20, 1982. As a garda he expected a certain amount of danger in his work, but he never had a chance. Neither did [his colleagues] Tom Quinn, Leo Kenny, Michael McMahon, or Paddy O’Brien, when they went to a simple disturbance call.
‘Patrick was the first garda murdered in 1982.
‘The rest of us are left with a horrible question. Would stronger penalties or longer sentences have prevented these deaths; perhaps that is the weakness in evaluating capital punishment? Hanging the murderer of Garda Reynolds will not bring him back, but it might save his fellow members.
‘We had no garda murders between 1943 and 1970. Since then we’ve had eight fatalities: four over the past 20 months. Something must be done immediately to demonstrate once and for all that the government will not tolerate this level of criminality. They must act with absolute determination to end this violence. All talk of abolishing capital punishment must stop, and the strongest signals sent out that the ultimate punishment will be retained on the statute books. This is no time for bleeding hearts.
‘The single most effective deterrent to the activities of criminals is the sight of a garda on duty. Given the personnel we can do the job. Without them we can’t. Today most of our provincial towns are bereft of gardaí. We do not have sufficient gardaí to keep our patrol cars on the road, and when they are, they are manned by half crews. Our rural districts cannot provide round the clock service. Patrol cars lie idle in station backyards, and beats have not heard a member’s footfall from one end of the week to the other.
‘You want unarmed policing, and I believe in unarmed policing, yet what can we say to the unarmed garda faced with a sawn-off-shotgun wielder, or the unarmed garda in a family car trying to keep up with the bandit in a high-powered vehicle? My association has always contended that guns would come between our members and those we serve, and that our communities are safer when police are unarmed. We must look again in terms of the times we live in. The fact that we ourselves prefer not to carry arms is not really the central point. I believe that the answer to the armed criminal can be found in stiffer laws and penalties, but if it transpires that there is no other way to reduce the sense of helplessness in the face of armed crime it may be necessary to give the gardaí more access to arms.
‘Unemployment is rising yet we have no outlets for the energies of those without work. Is it any wonder that some are attracted into criminal gangs? Don’t think you can isolate policing from the daily lives of people, their behaviour and attitudes, their needs and obligations, their jobs and the lack of them.’
An account of the submission appeared in the December 1982 Garda Review. The account above is a brief summary