The thick blue wall
: A socio-historical analysis of police accountability in the Republic of Ireland

  • Vicky Conway

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The powers afforded to public police in liberal democratic societies to perform their functions of investigating crime and maintaining social order, inherently raise tensions concerning the use of those powers, conflicts with the liberty of citizens, and accountability for these powers. 1n the Republic of Ireland, where An Garda Siochana is the national police force, these tensions became heightened through the publication of the reports of the Morris Tribunal, established in 2002 to investigate allegations of police misconduct and corruption. The aim of this thesis is to question why these conflicts had not emerged in Ireland prior to this Tribunal, when in other liberal democracies they have been problematic since the conception of police forces.

To achieve this, an analysis of existing accountability mechanisms was conducted, comparative to best practice in other jurisdictions, establishing that deficiencies existed in all aspects of those systems, particularly in terms of democratic accountability. The thesis then sought to establish the contextual factors which created this situation. Taking a socio-historical approach, documentary analysis of the history of the Force showed there was a history of police abuse of power since the foundation of the Force in 1922 and that this is strongly linked to the post-colonial nature of the State. Nationalist pride, of which An Garda Siochana was seen to be emblematic, prevented critical reflection of the Force. Oral history interviews with retired members of An Garda Siochana revealed the internal perceptions of the police role in Ireland and the place of accountability. The Morris Tribunal was presented as exemplar of the convergence of these factors.

Finally an analysis of recent legislative reform questioned whether this addressed previously established deficiencies in the mechanics of the system as well as the contextual factors identified by the thesis, as contributing to the weak system.

Date of AwardJul 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPhil Scraton (Supervisor) & Graham Ellison (Supervisor)

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