Garda Heavey Gang


The Heavy Gang

Taoiseach/Prime Minister Liam Cosgrave illegally and unconstitutionally conspired with the British Government, in a joint operation, to destroy the newly formed Irish Republican Socialist Party.

The new politics being introduced by the party’s formation related to campaigning nationally, simultaneously, on both social and constitutional issues. Its strategy was to contest elections and take seats North and South by organising a formalised broad-based national opposition for regime change. Initially, the party drew increasing numbers of members with backgrounds in community, trade union, human rights, women’s campaigns and national politics. The party was registered as a legal political party in the Irish state.

The joint British-Irish operation to destroy the party involved: infiltration and the placing of agent provocateurs in the organisation; a media campaign to isolate and blacken the party; intimidation of members; false arrests; incarceration of members; assassinations and murder through British agents.

Both British Secret Service agencies (MI5 and MI6) run agents in the Republic of Ireland. They have been doing so since before the State was established. As well, they direct agents to influence across all sections of Irish society ( eg media, industry, professions, academia, politicians, civil service, legal.) All are recruited by way of greed, blackmail, ideology, revenge or ‘false-flag’ (recruits believe they are working for one country or organisation when in fact they are working for another). Their programme of work involves supporting British economic/ political targets as well as disrupting organisations or individuals deemed to be opposed to ‘British interests.’ 

For the purpose of espionage, Ireland north and south, is viewed as one block.

Ex- MI6 agent Captain Fred Holroyd has exposed some of their operations in the 26 Co.s.  He ran various agents within the Gardai in the mid 1970s.  One was Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey. In  1975, the Commissioner “gave me about 150 photos and files on IRSP members” (Sunday Tribune 18 Oct 1992.) It was Commissioner Ned Garvey that hand-picked members of the Heavy Gang. Holroyd confirmed a joint Irish-British policy to target an Irish registered political party (IRSP.)

In the North, 3 members were murdered and 30 wounded. In the South, an attempt was made to assassinate the party chairperson. Members were targeted for low intensity harassment on the street, at work or educational facilities, house searches and routine 48- hour jailing by police. Many crimes and robberies were falsely attributed to members, proofed by the lack of any evidence or subsequent legal follow up. Regular press releases issued by the Party complained of these attacks and the consequent reputational damage. 

Meanwhile, the State orchestrated a frame -up to jail its central and middle leadership in a blow that would destroy the party’s public credibility. That is the Sallins Conspiracy.

To secure the evidence to deliver the blow, the State waited for an opportune time to launch.

They decided the Sallins Mail Train Robbery of March 1976 was that opportunity. Internment was out of the question as it had failed in the North. However, the non-jury trials in the North were jailing opponents en masse. The juryless Special Criminal Court in the South was doing the same, but it needed a semblance of evidence, for PR purposes, to jail the IRSP members.

Heavy Gang Structure

Thus, Taoiseach/Prime Minister Liam Cosgrave instructed Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey to let loose a recently established illegal and secret police unit- nicknamed the Heavy Gang by the police themselves. Between March 31st and April 9th they questioned, arrested or detained over 40 people in the largest round up since WW2- all connected to the IRSP. Eighteen of those arrested were targeted for torture to force them to sign incriminating statements.

At the time, Taoiseach/Prime Minister Cosgrave believed that anyone merely implicated in a statement could be charged as a co-conspirator. Of importance was an extensive pre-existing list the police wanted their suspects to ‘confirm.’

Commissioner Garvey instructed Superintendent John Joy, one of the top 40 policemen in the country at the time, to supervise the plan. Some police jumped the gun and arrested Osgur Breatnach and two others, separately, in different locations. They were held for 48 hours and released, uncharged.

Two days later, 30-40 detectives attended a conference in Dublin Castle called by Joy. He appointed Inspector Ned (Buffalo) Ryan to lead the ground operation. Heavy Gang leader Inspector John Courtney was appointed his assistance.

Eighteen Police teams were dispatched consisting of two Special Branchmen (SDU), two members of the Heavy Gang (Technical Bureau) and one other policeman. Their instructions were to arrest and interrogate everyone at the addresses they raided.

Arrests of men and women followed in Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Dun Laoghaire and Kerry. Those arrested were publicly known members of the party with responsibilities on the national executive, regional executives; as community and trade union organisers, or members of local IRSP branches. Spouses, relatives of friends who alibied them were also arrested. The editor of the party newspaper was arrested.

The torture consisted of a mix of  insults, threats, stress positions, deprivation of water and sleep, denial of legal rights, ear-clapping, assaults, kicks, being coshed, threats to be shot, threats to arrest families, threats to put children into care- all on a continuous 24-hour basis by teams of gardai.  Of the 18 detained for torture: four signed false incriminating statements dictated by the police. Two were alleged to have made incriminating verbal statements, which were denied by their ‘authors.’

Following the release of many of those falsely arrested and tortured, the party formalised complaints to solicitors, public bodies and associations and to Amnesty International.  All were subsequently exonerated after many years of campaigning. Irish governments refuse to hold an impartial public inquiry. 


In some of the subsequent 5 trials, the following (then) Gardai, of a variety of ranks from ordinary Garda to Superintendent, were named as being involved in the interrogation and formulation of the only evidence against those wrongly convicted.

Adrian O’Hara   

James Grehan

Kieran Lawlor

John Jordon

Joe Egan

Ned Ryan

Patrick Cleary

William Meaghar

Francis Cambell

Joeseph Hollan

Joeseph Collins

John McGroarty

Michael Finn

Thomas Ibar Dunne

John Murphy

Thomas Fitzgerald

Gerard O Carroll

John Courtney

Many of these were promoted during the trials, and subsequently, to high ranks with the Gardai.

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