Check Against Delivery
And most importantly - families and loved ones of the Gardaí we have lost, who I know are watching online.
It is an honour to be with you for today’s short, solemn ceremony.
The circumstances in which we meet are very different to previous memorials.
We cannot be physically together today, which I appreciate is hard on many of you. But it is only right that even in the context of a global pandemic, a way has been found to mark this day and the sacrifice of the 88 fallen Garda members we remember today.
The role and bravery of Garda members
I take tremendous pride in the everyday work of the more than 14,700 women and men who are now serving as Gardaí in communities all across the State, more than at any time in the history of the organisation.
In my 3 years as Minister for Justice and Equality, and before that in roles including Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have had the privilege of working in close contact with the women and men of An Garda Síochána as well as others in frontline roles in the emergency services.
And I must say that I have always been and remain in awe of the bravery of Gardaí and their commitment to public service.
At times of crisis – including now, during the Covid-19 pandemic – as a State and a society we are protected by the women and men of An Garda Síochána. They work to shield us from harm and protect the vulnerable. They connect our communities. And, oftentimes, they are also the ones to break difficult news and support us in moments of intense grief.
Indeed I think it is that commitment – to family, to community and to country – that defines An Garda Síochána at its best.
I have always been conscious too of the sacrifices made by families of all Garda members. It cannot be easy, to know that a loved one’s working day can expose them to danger. To have the rhythm of home-life disturbed, when external crises arise. Or to see the personal pain and trauma that working on difficult criminal cases or situations can no doubt bring.
And so to the families of all Garda members, I say - we see your contribution and we thank you too.
Gardaí killed in the service of the State
But we are here today to remember in particular the 88 Gardaí who have lost their lives in the service of the State.
Each one of these lost lives has, I know, caused untold sadness to their families and loved ones, and has been a loss to colleagues and wider society.
The Roll of Honour gives us a picture of these 88 men and their lives. These Gardaí were killed in active service in a wide range of different circumstances over the past almost 100 years.
These tragic deaths have occurred in both rural and urban settings here at home, as well as in active service overseas: I am thinking for example of Detective Sergeant Paul Reid who was shot at by a sniper while on duty in Sarajevo with the UN Protection Force, 25 years ago next Monday.
We have lost members who were killed tackling dangerous criminals:
– such as Garda Richard Fallon, who died 50 years ago this April, during the attempted arrest of armed robbers;
as well as members lost while trying to save lives
- including Garda John O’Donnell, who saved 2 girls from drowning off Ballybunion beach, but who lost his life doing so, almost 80 years ago.
We have lost experienced members as well as others who were just starting on their journey as Gardaí.
- I think of Garda Henry Phelan was the first and one of the youngest Gardaí to be killed in the service of the State, when he was shot dead at the age of 21 in Tipperary in 1922.
- I think too of Sergeant Michael Joyce, who I understand had 42 years service when he was killed in a road traffic collision en route to take responsibility for a prisoner being extradited.
And so the lives and circumstances of their loss has varied widely. But from Garda Phelan in 1922 right through to our most recent tragic loss nearly 5 years ago of another young man, Garda Tony Golden, shot while protecting a victim of domestic abuse, there is a thread that connects all of these men - It is the courage and heroism they showed; and the memory and legacy they leave behind.
Each of these 88 men died in the service of the State and people of Ireland. That is a debt that we can never fully repay but it is one that we must remember.
This Garden and the inclusion of these treasured names in the Role of Honour means reminds us of their lives, of their heroism and selflessness in putting the welfare of others ahead of themselves.
Day in and day out our Gardaí work to make our society better – so that we feel safe and secure in our communities. I recall that during last year’s ceremony, the Commissioner referred to policing as a calling and to the burden of bravery accepted by Gardaí and their families.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I offer sincere thanks to those Garda members who are currently answering the call to service and shouldering this burden to keep us safe.
And on behalf of the Government and people of Ireland, I convey heartfelt sympathy and gratitude to the families of the members no longer with us.