Garvey, Edmund (1915–89), Garda commissioner, was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, one of two sons of Irish emigrant parents who had spent time in America before settling in England. In 1917 they returned to their native Ballinlough in Co. Roscommon, where they ran a small grocery store. After his formal schooling ended in 1931 Garvey helped with his parents’ business, also working as a newspaper delivery boy and occasional motor mechanic. In 1939 he travelled to Dublin and enrolled in the Taca Síochána, the police auxiliary group recruited to assist the Gardaí during the 1939–45 emergency. Following this he joined the Garda Síochána and in 1944 was assigned permanently to the detective unit. Establishing a reputation as an outstanding detective, he rose quickly through the ranks. In 1953 he was appointed detective-sergeant, in 1956 detective-inspector, and the following year he was placed in charge of all larceny staffs in the Dublin district. In 1961, against his wishes, he was made housing officer for the force; by the time he had completed this job in 1966, over 500 sites had been surveyed for housing and station building needs, with an equal number under construction. Showing an insightful awareness of the social needs of the force, Garvey initiated the fund-raising of £30,000 in 1964 for the purchase of the Garda social club in Harrington Street, Dublin, creating a facility unparalleled elsewhere. He was also involved in the acquisition of Stackstown golf club for use by the Gardaí.
After a short stint in Dublin Castle in charge of Dublin city south-side crime investigations, in 1968 Garvey was again promoted, moving to Mullingar as chief superintendent with responsibility for the Longford–Westmeath district. In 1973 he returned to Dublin's north side with a further promotion as assistant commissioner, and in September 1975 he was appointed Garda commissioner by the Fine Gael–Labour coalition government. A deeply religious teetotaller who had no interest in activities outside of work, he announced at the commencement of his commissionership that he would keep in touch with the grassroots of the 8,500-strong force and improve morale. His term as commissioner, however, was dogged by bitter controversy, rancorous relations with his own force, and party-political feuds. His appointment, over the heads of three more likely candidates, had been largely as a result of his impressive performance in the anti-subversive section C3 of the Gardaí at a time when security against paramilitaries was one of the state's paramount concerns. The minister for justice in the coalition government, Patrick Cooney, acknowledged that he had appointed him because he was considered a ‘tough cop’, which in itself placed Garvey under unprecedented political pressure to produce results.
At this time the Gardaí and their representative body were at loggerheads with the Department of Justice over pay and conditions, and morale and discipline problems were matters of concern. Garvey's almost ruthless approach to discipline merely exacerbated tensions, as did his farcical off the record demand that each garda should issue 200 summonses per year for traffic and other minor offences (which, if put into practice, would have involved the summonsing of 1.5 million people per year). Garvey's excessive paranoia resulted in his attempting to persuade the newly appointed director of public prosecutions (DPP), Eamon Barnes, to prosecute the editors of the Garda Review (the journal of the Garda representative body) in the special criminal court over an editorial written in June 1976 which was critical of his leadership. Garvey argued that the editors were illegally usurping the functions of the government, but the bemused DPP refused to proceed.
As well as facing accusations that the editors of the Garda Review were being placed under Garda surveillance and that members of the force were being penalised for minor breaches of regulations, Garvey was also beset by disagreements over transfers and promotions. At the same time he was under pressure to achieve results in detecting subversive crime, and he presided over a regime which spawned a notorious ‘heavy gang’ of certain gardaí, who took violent shortcuts in the process of law enforcement, badly tarnishing the reputation of the force. One of the successes of his tenure was the rescue in 1975 of the kidnapped Dutch industrialist Tiede Herema, for which he was decorated as a member of the Orange Order by the Dutch government, though retrospective controversy was attached to his signature on the document which effectively ended the kidnap siege. His fate was sealed following controversy over the investigation of the IRA assassination of the British ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs (qv), in July 1976. The mistaken identification of a fingerprint at the scene of the crime led to concern over the reliability and integrity of the fingerprint section of the force; four members of the section were dismissed in 1977 without reference to the minister for justice, Gerry Collins. Not only that, but the detectives who had exposed the mistaken identification were victimised. Two of the garda who had been dismissed began legal procedings, and the minister also accused Garvey of failing to inform the government that the assassination suspect had been wrongly identified.
Although he was dealing with both a hostile force and a hostile government, Garvey resisted the representations made to him to resign. It was also clear that many gardaí had made representations to the Fianna Fáil party during the general election campaign of 1977, urging politicians to replace Garvey if the party was elected, which was precisely what happened. On 19 January 1978 he was dismissed after refusing to resign, with the government giving no reason for the decision, except that it had no confidence in him. It was the first dismissal of a commissioner since Eoin O'Duffy (qv) in 1933. Despite rumours that the government was considering appointing a civil servant as commissioner, Garvey was replaced by the deputy commissioner, Patrick McLaughlin, to the satisfaction of the Garda representative body. The government's incompetent handling of the dismissal prompted Garvey to sue them, and a high court judgment, confirmed by the supreme court, maintained that the dismissal was null and void, and the state was forced to pay him £13,000 compensation. Garvey died 29 November 1989, survived by his wife, Breta, the daughter of an RIC man from Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, and their five daughters and two sons.