By Patrick Markey
More than seven decades after he left Ireland in disgrace, a 100-year-old former Garda Siochana superintendent has won the battle to clear his name and dismiss allegations he was an IRA informer during the 1920s.
William Geary, who became a sprightly centenarian in February, said he was delighted the Irish Department of Justice had released documents allowing a review of evidence used to dismiss him from his position in 1928.
"I’m highly delighted after such a long period of time. I left a traitor to my country and now my name is cleared," said Geary during a telephone interview from his apartment in Bayside, Queens.
Geary fled to the United States after he was dismissed from the Garda because of allegations he took a £100 bribe from the IRA in County Clare. At the time, West Clare was a hotbed of IRA activity. But Geary was never convicted of a crime, nor did his superiors in the Irish Free State give him a hearing about the case.
From New York, Geary conducted a letter-writing campaign, consistently protesting his innocence to successive ministers of justice, prime ministers and local politicians. A meticulous record keeper, Geary kept detailed notes on his fight for justice. But his pleas were ignored for more than 70 years.
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After articles appeared in Ireland’s national press, particularly the Irish Times, the department of justice reopened the files on Geary’s case earlier this year. In a statement released last week, the department said, in part: "The minister, having reviewed all the papers, is not convinced that the procedures which were followed in the case in 1928 were satisfactory."
If Geary had faced the same procedures today the same outcome would be unlikely, the statement reads, suggesting that his name and reputation be restored in a practical way.
That has translated into money. Geary will receive a lump sum of £50,000 and an annual pension equal to the rank he held before his dismissal.
The money, however welcome, has played little part in Geary’s celebration: "It doesn’t really mean that much to me at this point in my life," he said.
John Collins, Geary’s godson who helped in his campaign over the last two decades, said the result seemed the most practical way to address his claim.
"In my personal opinion, it seems a good way to find a solution to the problem," he said.
After so many years in virtual exile, Geary says he had no immediate plans to return to Ireland. But a trip would certainly mean a visit to his birthplace, and the church where he was christened. "I’m playing by ear, at my age I have to be careful," he said.
The release of the documents, however, has added another ironic twist to a tale already replete with political intrigue.
According to Geary, an active IRA unit in West Clare was plotting to have him assassinated just before his dismissal. The unit had asked former IRA chief of staff and Nobel prize winner Sean McBride for permission to "do violence" to Geary, he said. But McBride allegedly said they would remove the Garda superintendent in another way, Geary claimed.
So using dispatches intercepted by Garda, the IRA managed to have Geary portrayed as an informer and manufacture his dismissal, he said.
"My dismissal saved my life. I could have been shot, you see," he said.