Death of John Carthy
John Carthy (9 October 1972 – 20 April 2000) was a 27-year-old Irish citizen with known psychiatric illnesses shot dead by the Garda Emergency Response Unit in controversial circumstances on Thursday 20 April 2000 after a twenty-five hour siege at his home in Toneymore, Abbeylara, County Longford.
- 1 Background
- 2 Siege
- 3 Calls for an inquiry
- 4 The Barr Tribunal
- 5 Reaction to Barr Tribunal
- 6 References
- 7 External links
John Carthy was born the only son of John and Rose Carthy on 9 October 1972. He had one sister, Marie, who was two years his junior. He was an avid Handballer and member of Abbeylara Handball Club. His father, with whom he was very close, died on 12 April 1990. In 1992 John was diagnosed with clinical depression and, subsequently with bipolar affective disorder. John's general employment was in the construction industry. He resided with his mother in an old, three-bedroom house in Toneymore, Abbeylara. She and John were due to move from this old house to a new home which had been built on their land by Longford County Council as part of a rural housing scheme. The old house was due to be demolished. On 19 April 2000, the day prior to his death, John stayed in the family home all day with his mother. His mother's testimony to the Barr Tribunal indicated that John was very hostile to the move and that this was the primary topic of their discussions that day.
Like many people in the countryside, John Carthy was the legal owner of a double barrel shotgun, in this case a Russian-made Baikal model 43M. He was also in possession of a firearms certificate in relation to this weapon. This certificate had been of limited duration prior to November, 1998 when it was changed to an unlimited type and this was subsequently renewed on the 29 August 1999.
Day One: 19 April 2000
At approximately 15:40 on Wednesday 19 April 2000 John Carthy went to the cabinet within which was his shotgun. He brought it, a full box of cartridges and his gun belt back to the kitchen remonstrating, according to his mother, that "no one was going to put him out of his house". He loaded the gun with two cartridges, went outside the hall door and discharged two shots. It is not quite clear whether John then forced his mother out of the family home, or whether she left at her own volition. However, Rose Carthy left the family home and travelled to her sister's home, two doors away. Mrs Carthy informed the Barr Tribunal that her son did not order her out of the home, despite rumours to the contrary at the time. She was, however, very afraid for her son. Rose Carthy asked her sister, Nancy Walsh, to ring the Gardaí in Granard, three kilometres away, to come out and "take the gun from John". At 17:20 Ann Walsh, John's first cousin, telephoned the Gardaí in Granard. Two Gardaí, John Gibbons and Colin White, were dispatched to the scene. It appears that Garda Gibbons knew John Carthy as before he left Granard Garda station he took with him an official issue .38 Smith & Wesson revolver and some ammunition. He also obtained a Garda flak jacket and put on a "civilian jacket" over the flak jacket. Garda White was unarmed, in uniform and driver of a marked Garda car. At approximately 17:55 on Wednesday 19 April 2000 the two Gardaí drove in the driveway of the Carthy home. Two shots were fired in rapid succession from an unknown place and in an unknown direction. They quickly reversed their car and observed the Carthy home from a safer distance. At this stage John Carthy's general practitioner, Dr. Patrick Cullen, was called to the scene. While waiting for Gardaí he said that approximately ten shots were fired "out the back of the house". Dr. Cullen was followed to the house by an armed detective, Garda James Campbell, in an unmarked Garda car. He warned the three Gardaí now present that John Carthy might be aggressive due to the "previous incident and alleged Garda assault". He also advised them that John Carthy may have consumed alcohol. Nonetheless, Detective Garda Campbell and Garda Gibbons, both of whom were armed, decided to approach John Carthy's home. At this juncture in the unfolding drama the Barr Tribunal was given to remarking, "It may be of significance that the house was now being approached by two armed Gardaí in circumstances where there was information to the effect that John Carthy had been on anti-depressant tablets, was not holding any hostage, had discharged his weapon on a number of occasions, and that he might be aggressive to them because they were Gardaí". No back-up support was thought necessary at this time.
Detective Garda Campbell attempted to talk with John Carthy but, in his evidence, said Carthy replied with an expletive and a threat to blow his head off. This exchange was followed by a shot at the Garda car which was now unoccupied. In total, John Carthy fired six shots by the time Detective Garda Campbell rang Granard Garda station with a request that they contact Superintendent Michael Byrne, who was in charge of the Granard Sub-District. Byrne instructed them to contact Superintendent Joseph Shelly in Mullingar. Shelly assumed command of the incident and ordered that a party of armed Gardaí be sent from Athlone station forthwith. En route to Granard Garda Station, Superintendent Shelly had another discussion with Superintendent Byrne and requested that armed Gardaí from Longford also be sent to Abbeylara. By 18:30, then, following the discharge of shots, the damaging of an unmarked Garda car and the request for assistance, armed Gardaí and detectives from Athlone, Longford and Mullingar were sent to John Carthy's home in Abbeylara. At 18:45 the divisional commander for Longford/Westmeath, Chief Superintendent Patrick Tansey, became aware of events. He contacted Superintendent Shelly by phone. These conversations led to the decision to deploy the elite Emergency Response Unit (ERU). Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey issued the request for their deployment. Six members of the ERU were subsequently sent to Abbeylara from the Special Detective section in Harcourt Street, Dublin, where they were based. Five ERU members were required to deal with practical matters while the sixth, Detective Sergeant Michael Jackson, was a trained negotiator. The ERU arrived at 21.50. Among their weapons were Uzi submachine guns, a Heckler & Koch assault rifle, a Benelli combat shotgun and Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistols. The Barr Tribunal found the deployment of the ERU, the most elite force within the Irish police force, to be a particularly inappropriate decision especially given the fact that John Carthy had no hostages. While tactical control rests with ERU members on the scene overall control rests with the divisional commander. During the Abbeylara siege, this was shared between Superintendent Shelly and Superintendent Byrne. The former was in command between 1900 on the 19 April and midnight. From midnight to 0900 on 20 April, Superintendent Byrne was the Scene Commander and at 0900 on the day of John Carthy's death, Superintendent Shelly resumed command.
Day two: 20 April 2000
Superintendent Shelly officially took over at 9 am, but had been back on the scene at 8.20 am. Throughout the morning, numerous tactics were employed by the Gardaí to end the siege. John's cousin and close friend, Thomas Walsh, was brought in to talk with him. At this point, Thomas Walsh's evidence and that of various Gardaí, particularly the chief negotiator Sergeant Michael Jackson, are incompatible on virtually every point from the issue of getting John cigarettes to what was, or was not, said.
At 12.24 pm, John Carthy telephoned a friend, Kevin Ireland, requesting a solicitor by the name of "Mick Finucane". Kevin Ireland contacted Garda Daniel Monahan in Granard Garda station with this information. Again, evidence conflicts with Ireland saying that he was "nearly 100% sure" that he told Sergeant Monahan that the solicitor could have "republican links or something like that". In this, Ireland was most definitely alluding to Michael Finucane, the Belfast solicitor and son of the assassinated Pat Finucane. Moreover, the tribunal found it to be extremely negligent on the Garda's part not to fully debrief Kevin Ireland. Had they done so they would have realised that Carthy had made it clear to Ireland that he had no intention to hurt anybody. Furthermore, the family were not informed of John's request for a solicitor but the Garda denied that a specific decision in this regard had been taken.
At approximately 5:55 p.m., John Carthy exited his house through the front door in possession of his shotgun. Walking onto and up the road in the direction of Abbeylara, Garda witnesses reported that he was advised to drop his gun several times.
John Carthy died from four bullet wounds to his body. All four shots were fired from behind. The first two shots were fired by the ERU member and negotiator, Sgt Michael Jackson, into his legs. The next two shots were fired into his torso by Garda Sgt Aidan McCabe, the fourth fatally wounding him.
Calls for an inquiry
On 25 April 2000, John Carthy's 25-year-old sister, Marie Carthy, held a news conference. Describing her brother as "intelligent, popular, hardworking, witty, gentle and a man who never let anyone down", Marie Carthy called for a full independent and public inquiry into the death of John Carthy five days previously.
Marie Carthy's call came in response to two developments: firstly, the Garda investigation announced on the evening of the shooting on the 20 April 2000  and, secondly, and more importantly, the Gardaí revelation that they would not make this report public. In a statement issued in response to public concern about the shooting, An Garda Síochána said that under existing legislation, namely the Coroners Act of 1962, they were proceeding to hold an inquest into the death of the John Carthy.
Coming under pressure to make their internal investigation findings public, the Gardaí requested the FBI in the United States to investigate their handling of the shooting. On 29 June 2000, the FBI reported their findings to the Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne. The five-member FBI investigation concluded that the main problem with the Garda's operations on the day was that they did not shoot John Carthy soon enough. In the words of the FBI report, "Garda personnel repeatedly and emphatically ordered Mr. Carthy to halt and throw down his weapon. Despite these warnings, Mr. Carthy was allowed to continue undeterred beyond the wall which served as one side of the inner perimeter and walk toward the outer perimeter which was manned in part by unarmed Garda officers....to allow Mr. Carthy to cross the inner perimeter armed after he had repeatedly ignored warnings and had previously aimed and fired his shotgun at Garda officers was inconsistent with accepted law enforcement practices in the United States".
It was soon revealed that many members of the Emergency Response Unit had been trained by the FBI and that there was a longstanding relationship between both forces. In particular, the ERU negotiator on the day, Sgt Michael Jackson, had trained under their auspices in the United States. This is not particularly surprising[according to whom?] given the experience and expertise of the FBI in cases involving armed standoff or hostage-type scenarios. Courses are offered at FBI training grounds at Quantico to police forces from around the globe. This revelation strengthened media calls for a full public inquiry.
Oireachtas Subcommittee inquiry
On 8 March 2001 and responding to the growing disillusionment and distrust at the idea that the Garda were investigating themselves, the Irish government, still rejecting calls for a full public inquiry, instead established an Oireachtas subcommittee to investigate the shooting. The committee had seven members: Seán Ardagh, T.D. (FF) (Chair); Marian McGuinness, T.D. (FF); John McGuinness, T.D. (FF); Alan Shatter, T.D. (FG); Monica Barnes, T.D. (FG); Brendan Howlin, T.D. (Lab) and Senator Denis Donovan (FF).
However, on 23 November 2001, the High Court of Ireland deemed this subcommittee of both houses of the Irish parliament to be unconstitutional. The state's appeal, on 11 April 2002, of this decision to the Supreme Court of Ireland failed when the latter body found in favour of 36 Gardaí who challenged the right of this particular committee to call them. The ground upon which The Supreme Court had ruled this committee unconstitutional was that the Oireachtas has no explicit, implicit or inherent power to conduct an inquiry which could lead "to adverse findings of fact and conclusions (including a finding of unlawful killing) as to the personal culpability of an individual not a member of the Oireachtas so as to impugn their good name is ultra vires in that the holding of such an inquiry is not within the inherent powers of the Oireachtas". The Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2011 was intended to reverse this judgment.
Within a week of this judgement, by 17 April 2002, a motion was proposed and passed in Dáil Éireann and seconded in Seanad Éireann: "That Dáil Éireann [Seanad Éireann in its Resolution] resolves that it is expedient that a tribunal be established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 to 2002, to enquire into the following definite matter of urgent public importance: - the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co Longford on 20 April, 2000" 
Out of this motion came the Carthy family's requested public investigation into John Carthy's death. Led by a former High Court judge, Robert Barr, it followed the pattern of other Irish Tribunals of Inquiry by becoming known as the Barr Tribunal in reference to the surname of its sole member. The Carthy family immediately welcomed the powers and scope of the tribunal.
The Barr Tribunal
On 20 July 2006 the report of Mr. Justice Robert Barr was released. The Barr Tribunal had its first public sitting on 7 January 2003 and its last on 7 December 2004. In this 519 day period it sat in public for 208 days. It cost almost €18 million, and extended to a substantial 744 pages. The report was comprehensive and did not limit its focus to the Abbeylara siege alone but investigated the reasons why John Carthy had so much distrust for An Garda Síochána. In this latter category, Mr. Justice Barr focused on two particular incidents where, he found, John had good cause to distrust the force. The first revolved around the Garda withdrawal of John's gun in 1998 following rumours that John Carthy had threatened the lives of children in the Handball Alley, which he had used, and which he had been central to restoring, on a quotidian basis. On the basis of these rumours his gun was taken from him. The Tribunal found no basis for these threats and found the behaviour of the Garda to amounted to "deception" and "subterfuge". On the second background issue, the allegation that John's "deep animosity" to the Garda was as the result of being beaten in Garda custody, Justice Barr found against the force. Basing his view on evidence from his GP and neighbour Justice Barr concluded that John Carthy was "probably subjected to physical abuse while under interrogation" by two Gardaí. Barr stated that he believed Carthy was assaulted and did not believe the two Gardaí who denied this. John Carthy's previous treatment in Garda custody is the central theme behind his distrust of the force throughout the siege.
On the actual siege itself the report was damning of An Garda Síochána. The above mentioned FBI inquiry into the force's actions on that day found that the Garda made one principal fault on the day, namely by not shooting John Carthy soon enough. In contrast, Justice Barr identified twenty-three ‘fundamental’ and four ‘crucial’ mistakes by the Garda command during the siege in Abbeylara. Justice Barr was unequivocal in his condemnation of the management of An Garda Síochána. He described John Carthy’s death as ‘avoidable’ and his death as ‘unique’ because, although An Garda deal with armed individuals regularly, they were proven to be incompetent when dealing with a young man with a history of mental illness who, crucially, was of no threat to any other member of society other than himself. Justice Barr elucidated fourteen mistakes which were made by Sgt Michael Jackson of the ERU in his role as the negotiator at Abbeylara.
Chief criticisms of Sgt Michael Jackson
- Sgt. Jackson failed to make real efforts to achieve a resolution during the armed stand-off, although the judge did say that "lack of resources and experience militated against his prospect of success".
- Referring to Sgt. Jackson working as the only negotiator at the scene, he said "it is unfair and unreasonable to expect optimum performance in a unique situation from an inexperienced negotiator in those circumstances".
- Sgt. Jackson, he said, was obliged to work on duty in the open for a total of around 20 hours, right up to the time John Carthy was fatally shot. Again, aiming his principal criticism at Garda management, the judge said there were 27 other experienced police negotiators in the jurisdiction at the time, and that one of them should have been provided to collaborate with Sgt Jackson.
- Mr. Justice Barr also said it was "patently negligent not to contact the subject's own attorney or ... the family solicitor".
However, Mr. Justice Barr did emphasise that primary responsibility for John’s death rested with the Scene Commanders of An Garda Síochána, and to a lesser extent with the ERU which Sgt Jackson was a member of, observing that the ‘negligence of those in command led to the tragedy.’ Barr accepted Garda Sgt Aidan McCabe’s evidence that, after firing the third shot from behind into John Carthy’s body, he believed John Carthy still posed a threat. However, he laid the blame for this firmly on ‘defective’ Garda management of the scene which allowed the situation to deteriorate to that level. In particular Barr reserves especial criticism for the principal Scene Commander, Superintendent Joseph Shelly, whom he judged to be negligent on a number of counts and of doing little in his role as intelligence commander. Adding to the general picture of a negligent Garda management, this was the same Supt Shelly who had been criticized by the Morris Tribunal and consequently retired on full pension in July 2005.
Key findings of Barr Tribunal
- The greatest Garda mistake was not preparing for an uncontrolled exit by Mr. Carthy from his home.
- Garda failings in relation to the Carthy family were unacceptable.
- The Garda failed to consult or involve John Carthy's doctor and his psychiatrist.
- The conduct of negotiations and the location of the negotiation and command posts were wholly inappropriate.
Chief recommendations of the Barr Tribunal
- An urgent review of Garda command structures for dealing with sieges.
- More expertise and training in dealing with people with such illnesses was long overdue, especially when the ERU was involved.
- The ERU should henceforth be equipped with stun guns and other non-lethal options.
- Local area Garda superintendents should undergo refresher training for one week every year as scene commanders, and a similar refresher course for ERU officers of the rank of inspector or superintendent.
- There should be a formal working arrangement between Gardaí and State psychologists.
- Basic instruction on mental illness and on the need to seek medical advice in such cases.
- Detailed courses for all Garda negotiators.
- Basic training on dealing with the mentally ill for recruits.
Barr Tribunal's criticism of the media
In addition to the above findings the Barr Tribunal was particularly critical of the Irish media. This is worthy of note, despite the fact that the media organisations concerned did not accentuate this aspect of the report. Judge Barr found the RTÉ's Five Seven Live radio show was particularly irresponsible in naming John Carthy and Barr adjudged that "the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy as specified in the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference include matters which add[ed] to or could have potential for aggravating the deceased’s apparently serious mental distress which became progressively more severe as the episode at Abbeylara continued (vide the evidence of Dr. John Sheehan and other psychiatrists given at the Tribunal), and in consequence the potential for undermining the possibility of successful dialogue between the Garda negotiator and John Carthy which might have avoided the circumstances that gave rise to his death." In addition to RTÉ, the Sunday Independent was also strongly criticised, particularly an article entitled Dramatic New Evidence in Abbeylara Case with beneath it a subsidiary headline "Abbeylara family row over land may have affected siege victim Carthy’s state of mind prior to his death". That article was published on 31 October 2004 and Justice Barr found it to be slanderous to the Carthy family. The Barr Tribunal was particularly riled that the Sunday Independent journalist in question, Maeve Sheehan, was more concerned with defending the Garda position at any cost than being fair to the Carthy family. The report noted that her "article also contained other information apparently favourable to the Garda case that the connection between the deceased and his sister, Marie, was not the close caring relationship indicated in evidence by various witnesses". The Tribunal noted that the Carthy family had sued that particular newspaper for the article in question, and that the Sunday Independent had settled out of court before the trial.
Reaction to Barr Tribunal
Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern made a public apology to the Carthy family on behalf of the Irish government. The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, admitted that the Carthy family was entitled to a profound expression of regret from the Irish State. Garda Ombudsman Commission member, Conor Brady, accepted that the Barr report outlined "an unspeakable catalogue of personal failure by individual Gardaí" and expressed his view that it was disturbing to see some Gardaí involved in a "culture of cover up and circling the wagons".
However, the Garda Representative Association remained unapologetic noting that while Mr. Justice Barr had four years to compile his report, officers at the scene had only seconds to make up their minds. Symbolically, six weeks before the report was first due, the chief negotiator on the day, Detective Inspector Michael Jackson, was recommended by Garda management for promotion to the rank of superintendent. The Gardaí had been reluctant to give an apology with the Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy omitting an apology from a statement issued on 21 July 2006: "The outcome of the siege at Abbeylara, which resulted in the death of John Carthy is very much regretted. As previously expressed at both the tribunal and the inquest, the sympathies of all members of An Garda Síochána are offered to Mrs Rose Carthy and the extended Carthy family". At a subsequent press conference, John Carthy's sister, Marie, lambasted the Garda refusal to give an apology saying that it was regrettable that the Gardaí was still not accepting responsibility for her brother's death. Finally, on 10 August 2006, the Garda Síochána issued an apology to the Carthy family. They were, the statement said, "truly apologetic for the loss of John's life".
- Two witnesses in the Walsh house described Mrs Carthy to the Barr Tribunal as being "hysterical" with fear that John would shoot himself.
- Barrtribunal.ie The Tribunal of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co Longford on 20th April 2000
- BarrTribunalReportChapter4 'Thomas Walsh returns to the scene and attempts further contact'
- BarrTribunalReportChapter4 Subsequent events regarding the subject’s phone call to Kevin Ireland
- Contact with the family following receipt of the information from Noeleen Leddy and Kevin Ireland http://
- Barr Tribunal Report Chapter 5 - The Final Minutes — John Carthy’s Exit from the House and Subsequent Fatal Shooting
- Rte.ie/news Gardaí to investigate fatal shooting of siege gunman 20 April 2000
- rte.ie/news Results of investigations into Carthy shooting not to be published 22 April 2000
- Oireachtas Website - Federal Bureau of Investigation Report into the death of John Carthy
- "ireland.com - The Irish Times - IRELAND". The Irish Times.
- "ireland.com - The Irish Times - IRELAND". The Irish Times.
- "Majority of the Supreme Court judges ruled against State's appeal over Carthy inquiry", The Irish Times, 12 April 2002
- "Details revealed of constitutional amendment to help investigate banks". Irish Examiner (Cork). 12 September 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
- barrtribunal.ie/Termsofref.html Historical-debates.oireachtas.ie
- rte.ie/news - Carthy family welcomes terms of Abbeylara inquiry
- "Gardaí reject "subterfuge" slur in report on Abbeylara The Sunday Independent", 23 July 2006.
- 'Gardaí reject 'subterfuge' slur in report on Abbeylara The Sunday Independent', 23 July 2006.
- Barr Tribunal Report Chapter 9
- Barr Tribunal Report Chapter 9, Section B: — The Sunday Independent Published on 31st October, 2004
- rte.ie/news - Carthy family make call over Garda.
- eircom.net/content/irelandcom/topstories The Irish Times Saturday 22 July 2006.
- rte.ie/news - Family reacts to Barr Tribunal report
- breakingnews.ie - Garda Commissioner apologises to family of John Carthy