Special Branch Garda who protected Des O’Malley during IRA threat — He was brave and “of all other things, always truthful”

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Special Branch Garda Kevin Sheahan, who protected Minister for Justice, Des O’Malley, when he faced threats from the IRAwas Minister for Justice, photographed here chatting with President Éamon De Valera who he also protected. Photo David Raleigh

SPECIAL Branch Garda Kevin Sheahan formed a close bond with his fellow Limerick man, Des O’Malley, who began sleeping with a gun under his pillow as he and his family faced a sustained credible threat from the Provisonal IRA.

“Dessie”, who had played a key role in the Arms Crisis, was appointed Minister for Justice in 1970 and took a tough line with the Provos, establishing the Special Criminal Court, and introducing the Offences Against the State Act, which boosted the State’s armoury against paramilitary groups.

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Sheahan, now a long-serving Fiannna Fail Limerick City and County Councillor, said O’Malley never slept at the same address for more than a week when that threat level was at its highest.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Kevin Sheahan. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

“He was a ‘hot potato’ at the time. We never allowed him go anyplace without at least two of us with him, as well as his driver.”

“There were (threats) yes, and we knew that (the IRA) were planning to hit something. It was his wife’s family pub in Tyrone that got hit. We knew there was a decision taken to – if the word is right – to take revenge on him from measures he took without fear or favour.”

Pat O’Malley’s family run pub was blown up twice.

“At the that time we were also giving protection to his mother, discreetly and quietly. She was living at the time in Dun Laoghaire, I think it was, and we used to look after her without she even being conscious of it,” Sheahan revealed.

While Sheahan kept a watching brief on O’Malley in Dublin, and often accompanied him home to Limerick at weekends, it was the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and his colleague Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan who provided round the clock protection for O’Malley’s wife Pat and their four children at their Treaty City suburban home.

O’Malley had bumped into the two brave garda detectives again on April 29, 1996, as they provided protection at a plenary session of a British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Party Body, at Adare Manor. What the three men could not have known then, was that McCabe would be murdered 39 days later in Adare by a Munster IRA unit and O’Sullivan left fighting for his life after being riddled with bullets fired from a Kalashnikov automatic rifle.

Sheahan, 75, from Askeaton, paused this morning at hearing the death of his old friend who he had helped keep alive during “tense times”.

“I remember one night we were traveling from Dublin to Limerick and a (credible threat) came through in our car, so we had to pull up and Dessie had to use a phone in Roscrea Garda Station. A couple of gardai there were shocked to see the Minister walking into the station, times were tense then, that’s all I’ll say.”

“Things were very tense in Dublin and there was a question mark about would he leave Dublin that evening at all. That (threat) existed, we were conscious of that, we did things that I wouldn’t talk about, it wouldn’t be right to talk about them, but he never questioned what we did, he left it to us, and we did things always in the best interest of being able to cope with a situation if it arose, that we would protect his life at any price.”

Sheahan recalled an incident which galvanised his “great admiration” for O’Malley, after he witnessed him venture up to the roof of Mountjoy Prison and convinced some prisoners who had caused a riot and escaped to the rafters that they’d be better off in their cells rather than outside on a frosty night.

“He had liathroidi. He went up with a megaphone in his hand to speak to the men on the roof. It was a cold night and he told them, ‘ye have ten minutes to get off the roof or we are turning the water on ye’, straight-talk, you couldn’t meet him for straight talk, and the prisoners made a decision to get off the roof.”

“I think they knew, with his reputation, he meant what he said, and that frostbite was on the way. When I drove him back to his hotel, he wasn’t beating his chest about the success, nor was he claiming any great victory or anything like that, he just said, ‘I’ll see you in the morning’. Job done, nothing to get excited about.”

Sheahan said he wanted to “convey my sympathies to his family”, adding, “Dessie O’Malley was a unique creature, of all other things, at any cost, he was always truthful, he said it when it had to be said, and he said it as he saw it.”

“I’ve met a few of them in my time, and I doubt there was a Minister for Justice in the history of this State, in my lifetime, who had what it took to do what he did on the roof of Mountjoy. He was unique, and I still have great admiration for what I saw of that man, for his skills, his intelligence and his courage.”

“If we know our maker, he has a special job for Dessie, in a special place, to keep the rest of them in line, wherever that is.”