Ainsworth, Thomas Joseph (Joe; ‘Two Gun Joe’) (1927–2015), garda, was born 17 May 1927 at his parents’ home at Davitt’s Terrace, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, the elder of two sons of Harry (Henry) Ainsworth, a victualler, and his wife Margaret (née Feeney). Ainsworth was educated at St Gerard’s school in the town and served in the Local Defence Force during the Emergency. In May 1946 he joined An Garda Síochána. He was stationed in Cos Kilkenny, Longford and then Cork, earning promotion to sergeant (1954) and then inspector (1960). After his transfer to Dublin, Ainsworth served for a time as private secretary to Garda Commissioner Daniel Costigan (qv). In 1963 Ainsworth was promoted to superintendent and in 1964 was transferred to ‘B’ branch in the Garda Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin, which oversaw staffing and resources across the force.
CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT AND BARRACK MASTER
Ainsworth’s rise through the ranks continued throughout the 1960s, with his appointment as assistant barrack master at Garda headquarters in 1965 followed by promotion to chief superintendent and barrack master in 1968. The latter appointment required government approval (as did all appointments above the rank of inspector) and was vehemently opposed by Garda Commissioner Patrick Carroll (qv), which caused a delay in the announcement of the promotion. Opposition TD Ritchie Ryan publicly noted that Ainsworth was promoted ahead of thirty-eight gardaí with more seniority, alluding to the fact that he and the minister for justice, Micheál Ó Móráin, both hailed from Castlebar, where Ainsworth’s brother Jude was a prominent Fianna Fáil councillor. (Ainsworth claimed in 1984 that Peter Berry (qv), secretary of the Department of Justice at that time, told Ainsworth he chose him due to his capabilities and experience; Berry had died in 1978.) During the tenure of Commissioner Edmund Garvey (qv), a Fine Gael appointee who served from September 1975 until his dismissal in January 1978, Ainsworth was marginalised. His fortunes were, however, revived by Garvey’s replacement, Patrick McLaughlin, who chose Ainsworth as his personal aide (advisor).
Ainsworth excelled as barrack master. Dilapidated buildings and facilities were refurbished and modern technology and equipment were procured, which considerably improved the force’s capabilities. During the 1970s he developed gardaí telecommunications infrastructure. In June 1979 Ainsworth was promoted to assistant commissioner and in December took control of C3, the force’s security and intelligence branch. This caused some disquiet as Ainsworth, perceived as a bureaucrat, lacked experience in the area. C3 branch was responsible for counterintelligence, monitoring domestic subversion and surveillance of political activists and radicals. It also liaised with other police forces, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and military intelligence. In 1980 Ainsworth established a task force in each of the eighteen garda divisions outside Dublin, which bypassed local command structures and reported directly to him. He also increased the numbers of detective inspectors and detective superintendents. Many of these were deployed in divisions along the Northern Ireland border, where they focused on security, surveillance and intelligence gathering. Cooperation with the RUC considerably improved under McLaughlin and Ainsworth, who developed close personal relationships with chief constable Sir Jack Hermon (qv) and his deputy Trevor Forbes. Hermon often visited Ainsworth’s Dublin home for dinner, where they discussed counter-terrorism cooperation.
RELATIONSHIP WITH CHARLES HAUGHEY
Ainsworth also oversaw the personal security of senior judges, diplomats, civil servants and arranged security for Charles Haughey (qv), who served his first term as taoiseach from December 1979 to June 1981. They developed a close professional relationship and Ainsworth enhanced the security of Haughey’s home in Kinsealy, Co. Dublin. Haughey’s leadership of Fianna Fáil, and thus of the government he led until June 1981, was reliant upon the support of George Colley (qv), tánaiste and former leadership rival. Colley’s support was contingent upon holding a veto over Haughey’s appointees as ministers for defence and justice, and Haughey consequently relied on Ainsworth as a direct personal conduit for sensitive intelligence and security reports. The assistant commissioner often provided personal security briefings in the taoiseach’s home, creating an unprecedented situation whereby bureaucratic channels in the Department of Justice, and the cabinet security sub-committee (which together governed sensitive intelligence and security oversight), were subverted and bypassed.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the state grappled with heightened subversive activity by dissident republicans and increasingly violent criminality. The murder of three serving gardaí by republicans in 1980, alongside Ainsworth’s experience (leading an unsuccessful manhunt) dealing with the kidnapping of Benne Dunne on 16 October 1981, led him to expand Haughey’s personal protection, as well as that of other prominent figures. Ainsworth transferred gardaí escorting Haughey directly into his own command and ensured two Mercedes cars were always at Haughey’s disposal. In January 1982 Martin Cahill (qv) planted a bomb in the car of Dr James O’Donovan, director of the state’s forensic laboratory, who survived with serious injuries. This led Ainsworth to increase his own security and protection. His home in Churchtown, Dublin, was floodlit and a uniformed garda and special branch officer were stationed outside on twenty-four-hour duty. In addition to his own armed driver, Ainsworth was also accompanied by another vehicle with armed special branch detectives wherever he travelled. He varied his commute and the church he attended on Sundays. In addition to his standard issue Walther semi-automatic gun, Ainsworth also carried a backup Beretta pistol on his ankle, which earned him the nickname ‘Two Gun Joe’. He was sometimes derisively mocked as ‘Three guns’ by those who, inside and outside the force, perceived Ainsworth’s elaborate personal protection and precautions (bullet proof glass and video cameras were installed at his office) as excessive and self-aggrandising.
Haughey returned as taoiseach in March 1982 and, no longer reliant on Colley’s support, appointed Sean Doherty (qv) as minister for justice. A former garda, Doherty’s tenure was marked by a willingness to flout established departmental procedures and to interfere in gardaí investigations for political purposes. Ainsworth began to meet Doherty frequently in private; in April he was appraised of the minister’s serious concerns about cabinet leaks and instructed to tap the telephone of journalist Bruce Arnold. Such taps were usually sought to combat major crime or monitor subversives, with gardaí required to justify any such request to the Department of Justice. The senior civil servant responsible, Jim Kirby, queried this unprecedented request with Ainsworth, who dismissed Kirby’s concerns and described Arnold as ‘anti-national’ (Joyce and Murtagh, 195). The tap commenced 10 May.
In July Kirby queried a request to tap another telephone. Ainsworth told him senior members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), whom he refused to name, met at the home in question. The real target was journalist Geraldine Kennedy, though the phone number remained in the name of a previous occupant of her residence (as did the warrant seeking the tap). Kennedy and Arnold were among the more prominent of the many journalists then covering Haughey’s leadership of Fianna Fáil, with divisions within the party one of the dominant stories in Irish politics. Kirby’s opposition to this tap was again overruled by Doherty. Though surveillance of Arnold’s phone ended in July, Kennedy’s was renewed (which required the garda commissioner’s assent) in October on the basis that it was yielding evidence. It ceased in November after Kirby reviewed the files on all active taps.
During the summer of 1982 Ainsworth was in almost daily contact with Doherty and continued to meet Haughey frequently. Ordinarily the head of C3 branch liaised only with senior civil servants in the Department of Justice. By this time, the furtive Ainsworth–Doherty–Haughey nexus had almost completely sidelined the senior echelons and established supervisory bureaucracy of the department. Ainsworth was one of three assistant commissioners reporting to Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Wren. However, from 1981 Wren was increasingly marginalised by Ainsworth, who some colleagues in garda headquarters perceived as commissioner in all but name. In a sign of his increasing influence and power, in September the force’s special branch, then commanded by the assistant commissioner in charge of the force in Dublin, was renamed ‘intelligence and security’ and transferred into Ainsworth’s command. He now directly controlled over 1,000 detective gardaí.
Early in July 1982, Ainsworth supplied Doherty with complete transcripts of the phone taps on Arnold and Kennedy. He also, at Doherty’s request, personally delivered miniaturised recording equipment to Ray McSharry, the minister for finance. McSharry used the equipment to surreptitiously record a conversation in his office on 24 October with Martin O’Donoghue, who had recently resigned as minister for education after refusing to support Haughey in a Fianna Fáil leadership challenge. Ainsworth had transcriptions of the ensuing recording delivered to Doherty.
Ainsworth’s position within the gardaí had been built upon personal connections, and thus was susceptible to fluctuations in political fortunes. Following the collapse of the government in early November 1982 and the subsequent general election (24 November), Fine Gael’s Garret FitzGerald (qv) formed a coalition government with Dick Spring’s Labour Party. On 3 December, after Doherty met with Ainsworth and McLaughlin, the outgoing Fianna Fáil caretaker government created an unprecedented third deputy commissioner post (a handful of other controversial public appointments were also announced, which were publicly denounced by FitzGerald). Ainsworth was immediately promoted to the position. He retained control of the intelligence and security branch (which previous appointees always relinquished upon such promotion) and assumed command of all plain clothes gardaí in the state.
Five days before the new government formed, RTÉ television’s Today Tonight programme revealed details of Doherty’s direct intervention in police affairs in his Mayo constituency. When the new government formed on 14 December, FitzGerald appointed Michael Noonan as minister for justice and briefed him on rumours circulating about the tapping of journalists’ phones. Noonan, after the secretary of the department and Kirby confirmed the rumours, asked Wren to investigate further. On Saturday 18 December the Irish Times published a story by its security correspondent, Peter Murtagh, publicly revealing that Arnold’s and Kennedy’s phones had been tapped. That same day, at garda headquarters in Dublin, Ainsworth and McLaughlin met Hermon and Forbes. They discussed the RUC’s arrest of James McGovern on 27 September, ordered by Forbes in response to a garda request (which has been attributed to Ainsworth). McGovern had been arrested just a few hours before he was due to give evidence in court against Doherty’s brother-in-law, a serving garda, for assault. The case was dismissed due to McGovern’s failure to appear in court. When made aware of the 18 December meeting, a shocked Noonan announced that neither his department, nor the government, had any knowledge of the meeting.
When questioned by Wren in early January 1983, Ainsworth acknowledged his delivery of specialist recording equipment to McSharry. FitzGerald and Spring then sought the removal of Ainsworth and McLaughlin, with their fates discussed by the cabinet on 18 and 19 January. At a meeting with the two men on the evening of 18 January, Noonan asked them to consider their positions. The next day both submitted their resignations (likely avoiding outright dismissal) and Wren was appointed garda commissioner. In one of his first acts, Wren scrapped the divisional task forces created by Ainsworth, regarded as expensive and unnecessary and a manifestation of Ainsworth’s excessive centralisation. The security and intelligence branch reverted to its original name (special branch), while the third deputy commissioner post that had been created for Ainsworth fell into disuse.
Somewhat dour and considered by critics to be arrogant and ruthless, Ainsworth had been a divisive figure. He had significantly augmented the force’s security, surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities, enabling it to better respond to increasing criminality and heightened subversion. Ainsworth’s adept integration of special branch, divisional task forces and intelligence and security functions had undoubtedly increased overall effectiveness. This was marked by a notable decrease in bank robberies and a rise in successful operations against subversives. Yet by centralising power in his own hands, enabled by his close relations with Haughey and Doherty, Ainsworth had circumvented established norms of governance, bureaucratic control and oversight. Sections of the gardaí were sympathetic to Ainsworth and McLaughlin, noting the near impossibility of refusing a request from the taoiseach or a senior minister.
In July 1986 Ainsworth gained a Bachelor in Civil Law (BCL) degree from University College Dublin (UCD), though he does not seem to have practised law. From 1989 to 1997 he served two terms as chair of the National Safety Council. He consistently claimed he was obliged to investigate and identify the source of cabinet leaks and argued that the phone taps were necessary, justified and not politically motivated. In letters published in the Irish Times and sent privately to Haughey, Ainsworth alluded to dark conspiratorial forces acting against the state and his obligation to combat them. He claimed official secrets legislation limited his ability to fully describe events and urged the establishment of a sworn judicial enquiry to examine them. In 2003 Ainsworth claimed he had retired from the gardaí on principle after Noonan had ordered the cessation of Ainsworth’s investigation into how knowledge of the tapping of the journalists’ phones itself had been leaked. He also claimed he had lost up to £300,000 in foregone salary and pension entitlements and that he had compiled a 400-page dossier on the affair.
Ainsworth died at home in Churchtown, Dublin, on 5 November 2015. His funeral, at the church of St Paul of the Cross, Mount Argus, Dublin, was attended by senior serving and retired gardaí. No senior or retired politicians were in attendance. He was buried in Mount Venus cemetery, Rockbrook, Co. Dublin. Ainsworth was predeceased by Mary, his wife of fifty-three years. They had married 2 June 1952 and had three children, Henry, Adrian and Regina.