BELLHARBOUR’S John Kerin, Clare’s Chief Superintendent, is calling time on a 41-year career with the gardaí. It has been a distinguished one, which has seen him to the forefront of some of Ireland’s most high profile investigations.
In his earlier days on the force, Chief Supt Kerin was one of the first garda responders to one of the country’s worst rail disasters, the Buttevant train crash of August 1, 1980, which saw 19 people lose their lives and up to 80 seriously injured.
June 7, 1996 was a day that will be forever remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of the force, as it was the day Detective Garda Jerry McCabe died and his partner, Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan, was shot in Adare.
For Chief Superintendent Kerin, it is a day he will never forget, as it was the day he first took up duty as detective inspector and it was to be his first call in that capacity. It was a call that was hard to believe, as both detectives had been at his home hours before they were shot.
“Both Ben and Jerry were in my house until 1am that morning. They came over moving a shed with me that evening and I was due to take up my new role as detective inspector the next morning. I got the call from the chief at 6.20am and the words were ‘Jerry is dead and Ben is going to die’,” he recalled.
Chief Supt Kerin then had to go and tell the families. He lead this investigation over a four-year period, involving more than 60 arrests, with more than 5,000 statements taken.
“It was a seriously successful investigation in that we broke up an awful lot of IRA units in Dublin, around the border, Tipperary and the Midlands, aside from Limerick, as a consequence of it. The public were outraged and for the first time ever, they began to give us information about these people’s activities. The IRA crossed a line and the public didn’t forgive them and, as a consequence, a lot of them were jailed and a lot of units broken up”.
He credits the positive outcome in this case to the support he received from Chief Supt Ted Murphy
attached to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations and now retired Chief Supt Michael Fitzgerald in Limerick.
It also came at a time when multiple gangland murders were occurring. Looking back on it now, he said, “It was the start of a fight-back by the gardaí in Limerick in investigating gangland crime and I believe that was the start of the peacefulness of Limerick today. It did take 13 or 14 years but they finally seem to have brought it to boot”.
Chief Supt Kerin spent his earlier days in Mallow, as well as seven years in Clonmel as a detective, which saw him investigating up to seven murders in the same time.
“In Clonmel, in 1990, there was one case that sticks with me forever, two 17-year-old boys who were cycling to get home for father’s day and a drunken driver mowed them down on a footpath. I was the first at the scene and recall one of the parents, who I knew, arriving on the scene.”
While these cases were often stressful and challenging, he also made a lot of friends too, having played football and rugby in both counties.
Since returning to Clare as Chief Superintendent, having spent seven years here as Superintendent from 2000, he is most proud of the phenomenal reductions in crime over the last eight years. He is also really proud of the community involvement shown by gardaí locally, noting their work with the garda youth awards, Christmas parties for the elderly and outreach programmes for vulnerable people in rural communities.
“While it is not in our defined role of preventing and detecting crime, I believe it is what the garda organisation should be about and that is where we get the goodwill and trust of the people,” he said. There have been negatives too, in particular the closure of small garda stations.
“We had nine garda stations close in Clare, which was one of the highest numbers nationally. Crime continued to reduce but a lot of the public were sore over it. Looking back on it now, chief superintendents all over the country would have been left very much hung out to dry as regards having to explain this to the people and we didn’t get great support. It was a Government decision.”
He was also critical of the decision to close the two district stations in Ennistymon and Killaloe. He added that much damage has been done in recent times to the morale in the force arising from “the constant national media negativity towards the garda organisation”.
He described it as “extremely stressful and hurtful for the likes of myself and people around the country, who every day would be giving it 110%”.
“I fail to understand the barrage of constant everyday vilification, because we have an 87%/88% public satisfaction rating and while mistakes were made, every one of us were being pilloried around the country for the mistakes of a few people,” he said.
“It has really upset and annoyed me over the last few years. By all means criticise those that have done wrong but there is just a constant barrage. It has had a big impact on morale at management level and also those on the ground.”
He said this was evident by “the vilification of Commissioner Noreen O’Sullivan. The tribunals proved she did nothing wrong and yet there’s no apology to her. A lot of the units she set up and the things she did are now bearing fruit in tackling gangland crime in Dublin and it is something she is not getting credit for”.
That being said, he is proud of how Clare came out of this scandal, stressing that while there were issues with a small number of breath tests, he is “totally satisfied that it was the call centre in Castlebar which was responsible for the wrong recordings”.
“You can’t excuse those who gave wrong numbers but I am proud that we in Clare steered clear of that and it was reflective of the work of the people on the ground, the honesty and sincerity. We didn’t get it right all the time but we did get a lot of things right over the years.”
Another key highlight was the work carried out by the gardaí under his stewardship for the All Ireland Fleadhs in 2016 and 2017.
While he admits he got a fools pardon from the people of Clare, because he came from a well-known Clare family, he said he has always enjoyed a great working relationship with organisations throughout the county.
Probably one of his best days on the job was the 2013 Clare hurlers’ homecoming, which he had the privilege of heading up security for. Now, as he looks forward to his retirement, he is glad to say his plans are wide open but he is looking forward to spending more time with family, friends, cycling and, hopefully, more celebratory sporting occasions in the future.