Book review by Frank O’Shea
Cyril Meehan. In Dark Blue 2018. 254 pp, The Ideal Guard 2015. 167 pp
Cyril Meehan. The Ideal Guard. 2016. 167 pp
RRP: €14 + p/p each from email@example.com.
The Irish Gardai have had a bad time in recent years. First there was Letterkenny and the Donegal Division which gave rise to the Morris Tribunal. In his 2008 report, Justice Morris found that morale and discipline were low in the force, that there was poor oversight of officers and a culture of silence; these were criticisms that applied not just to Donegal. In the Waterford division, material was leaked to the media indicating that crime statistics were sexed up in a way that showed them in a better light. Recently the Tipperary division were shown to be over-reporting random breath tests by 385 per cent! And the disgraceful treatment of whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe has been dealt with in the Charleton report.
Cyril Meehan refers to some of these problems in his self-published book In Dark Blue. He admits that when he was serving in Waterford, his colleagues were convinced that either he or another unnamed Garda was responsible for leaking material to the media. He neither confirms nor denies his role. ‘Suffice to say,’ he writes, ‘I was delighted the whole business was exposed and in particular the involvement of the officer trying to make my life hell.’ This referred to a Superintendent who is very much the villain in the second half of the book.
Shortly after those incidents in Waterford, Meehan left the force. His marriage broke up, as did his second marriage and he tells us that he now lives in Lithuania.
In Dark Blue is in two parts, the first describing his years in the Donegal division as a raw recruit progressing in the ranks to sergeant. The author does not take himself or his work too seriously, but it is easy to appreciate the difficulty of policing in a place where a fugitive can escape into a different country by simply crossing a bridge or driving over a division in the road. Many of the situations which he describes involved the IRA from both sides of the Border.
When his wife was promoted in the civil service, the family moved with her to Waterford. Meehan obtained a transfer and while his early years were successful, he soon fell out of favour with some of his superiors. What he writes here seems to bear out the criticisms made by Morris and Charleton in their reports on Garda culture. After retiring, Meehan found that his Superintendent had described him in an official report as ‘anti-authority and not confirming to the organization norm’, a description that in the lee of Morris and Charleton, he is happy to read as a commendation.
In Dark Blue is an easy read. Meehan knows how to tell a story and how to engage his reader. A good editor would have corrected some of his grammar problems (‘him and I’), use and abuse of the apostrophe (‘I obeyed my superiors orders’) and eccentric punctuation, but these lapses are infrequent. If I say that there is a great deal left unsaid, it is in the hope that there may be more books to follow.
The other book, The Ideal Guard, was published first. It is a collection of amusing incidents involving members of the force. He says that ‘it was very successful … went into reprint within months of its launch.’ Indeed, my copy says ‘Third printing 2018.’
I would not be as enthusiastic about this book as about the later one, but it will be of particular interest to those who have had family connections with the Irish Gardai.