THE MACUSHLA 35 YEARS ON
By Andy Needham
The fourth of November 1996 passed off very quietly. There were no official events organised to celebrate a date which marks a milestone in Garda history. For 35 years earlier a number of young Gardai rebelled against stifling bureaucracy and authoritarianism in what was later to become known as the "Macushla Revolt", an event which was to change the course of the Garda for good.
The young Gardai had been refused a pay award given to their older colleagues and in frustration met in the Macushla Ballroom in Dublin in direct contravention of the Commissioner's orders. At the time, a number of young Gardai were so disillusioned that they were prepared to leave the Force and pursue an alternate career. Apparently it was the opinion of some of those disillusioned officers to "have a meeting, cause havoc and then leave", as they had made other plans already. The fact of the matter is that they stayed on, such was the success of the protest and many later held senior posts in the representative bodies that were to come. A few hundred Gardai attended the meeting and as they entered Inspectors from every division noted the names of anyone they could recognise.
Eleven of the Gardai were dismissed as a result. But the sackings set off a chain of events which ultimately led to the setting up of the Conroy Commission and an outstanding improvement in Garda pay and conditions.
The Macushla Revolt was a product of latent resentment within an authoritarian, hierarchical organisation. The pay Issue ignited this discontent in the Force. The pay award was agreed at Conciliation in October 1961 and accepted by the Representative Body (RB). But officers with less than three years service were not included in the award. This was seen by younger Gardai as discriminatory and symptomatic of their powerlessness to influence improvements in their archaic working conditions. It also highlighted the ineffectiveness and utter incapacity of the RB to represent their vital interests.
In effect the pay award would never have been accepted if the wishes of the younger members were represented. Clearly the problem was not just the pay award itself, but the method in which it was devised and agreed upon. The RB at the time was a single body representing all ranks but in practice this obviously was not the case.
Without any legitimate institutional organ to communicate its interests and grievances, a power vacuum arose which was quickly filled by a number of young officers led by Dick Keating, a Detective Sergeant from Whitehall. Meetings were held in secret in Dublin and throughout the country.
A large meeting was called for Saturday, November 4th, at the Macushla Ballroom, Amiens Street, Dublin. During the build up to the meeting, dire warnings were given to any Gardai thinking of attending. In any event the meeting took place, members' names were taken, and this later resulted in 160 members receiving charge notifications for discreditable conduct. The days after the meeting were tension filled. A go-slow policy was operating among Gardai in the city centre. Trivial offences such as illegal parking and street trading were ignored by the Gardai. An air of expectation was hanging over the Force; how long would this stand-off between the Commissioner and the Gardai last?
Five days later on November 9th, the Minister for Justice Charles Haughey issued a statement stating that once he was satisfied that discipline had been restored, he would undertake an examination of the existing negotiating machinery available to the Gardai and if it proved wanting, improvements would be made.
This statement was greeted by the Gardai as a sign that the issue identified by younger officers was finally going to get a hearing and perhaps even a remedy. But at 6 p.m. that very day, any such hopes were dashed. The Commissioner, Daniel Costigan issued the following order to 11 members of the Force:
I consider that Garda ________________________ Registered No. ______|
is unfit for retention in the Garda Síochána and with the prior condition of the Minister for Justice I hereby dismiss him from the Garda Síochána in exercise of the power conferred on me by Article 24 of the Garda Síochána (Disciplinary Regulations) 1961.
Dated this 9th day of November 1961.
Signed D. Costigan, Commissioner Garda Síochána.
The dismissal of the 11 members was totally unexpected especially following the Minister's earlier statement. A key element in the decision no doubt, lay with the response given by the 160 members, who were served with charge notifications for their attendance at Macushla the previous Saturday.
On Wednesday 8th November, those same members were asked to give an undertaking "not to call
or attend in the future any unauthorised meeting to discuss any matter concerning the Force". In consultation with their legal advisers, each member said he had never attended an unauthorised meeting "as I understand the word".
The repercussions over the dismissals reverberated throughout Irish society.
From across the social, political and religious spectrum, a universal voice was heard denouncing the action of the Commissioner. On Saturday night, November 11th, the wife of the Assistant Commissioner who was dealing with the protest was killed in a car crash on the southside of Dublin. It was decided, by a number of people, including Frank Mullen and Sean O'Colmain, an Inspector at the time, that as a mark of respect, the mass meeting that was planned for the next day in the Macushla again should be postponed. A banner was hastily made from old bed sheets and painted by O'Colmain's daughter. Hundreds of Gardai, who had travelled from all over the country were turned away from the Macushla that
On Sunday night, Frank Mullen was asked if he would go and talk to Archbishop McQuaid, who had offered to mediate in the dispute. He agreed. He went to meet the Archbishop and his secretary, Fr. Fehilly; later a Monsignor. McQuaid wanted the Gardai to postpone all further action and promise to "look after the welfare of the Gardai".
In the end, Justice Minister Haughey was contacted and he eventually settled the dispute
The 11 members were reinstated on Tuesday, November l4th, 1961, just ten days after the Macushla meeting. At the same time Mr Haughey announced an inquiry into the operation of the negotiating Machinery of the RB. According to "Guardians of the Peace" by Conor Brady, "the Macushla affair resulted in a considerable strengthening of the power of the Representative Bodies in the Force, and in particular of the RB for guards. The guards' Body, as distinct from the bodies representing more senior ranks, came to the fore over the next few years as an influence in the Force
that was often equal to that of the Commissioner or the Minister for Justice. The Guards' Body was directed by a young Co Clare guard, Jack Marrinan, who as full-time General Secretary began to apply skilful and professional trade union tactics to the Guards' claim for improved pay and conditions.
Confrontation followed confrontation until 1968 when another disputed pay claim resulted in the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry under Judge Charles Conroy to investigate pay and conditions of service in the Force as a whole.
The Conroy Commission took the widest possible view of its own brief, examining everything from recruitment and training to the relationship between the Commissioner and the Department of Justice. The commission's recommendations improved pay and conditions of service in the police, instituted a system of overtime payments and laid down basic working hours for the Force.
Those recommendations were barely in time, for resentment and discontent
had reached explosive proportions. Nonetheless, at least some members of the commission were initially of the opinion, once they had made a thorough internal examination of the Force, that they had arrived too late to be able to do anything about the overall condition of the organisation".
Copyright © 1996, The Garda Review Magazine