Larry Wren has become front-page news again as the Garda Commissioner responsible for driving Majella Moynihan to despair such that she attempted suicide five times, and once ended up in St John of Gods after the witch-hunt to which he and the Garda top brass subjected her in the 1980s when she became pregnant out of wedlock.
Larry Wren and Michael Noonan Minister for Justice
The signs were always there. Daniel Costigan, who was Garda Commissioner between 1952 and 1965, knew a rotten egg when he saw one, and he saw one in Wren. Costigan was outraged at Wren’s bullying behaviour as a superintendent in the early 1960s. Wren had been inspecting a number of gardaí on parade and, as usual, he found one whom he deemed to have an insufficiently clean uniform. Stepping back, he lifted his gloves and slapped the young garda across the face with them. After Costigan heard about the incident, he asked the young garda to make a statement so Wren could be prosecuted for assault but he declined. Had Wren been prosecuted and found guilty, he might have been drummed out of the Garda. At the very least, the incident would have been put on his record and damaged his prospect of any further promotion
This was far from an isolated incident: Wren had a habit of creating such misery in the ranks that grown men were often reduced to tears. His maltreatment of those under him in Limerick, Cork and elsewhere was legendary. In an earlier piece, The Trial of Larry Wren, which is posted on this website, we described how one man was driven to despair and anger, getting so drunk he discharged a shotgun at Wren after a mock trial had ‘sentenced’ Wren to ‘death’ for his behaviour. The man ended up in an asylum.
Also, as described in our earlier piece, Wren was a right-wing Catholic bigot. If anything, we underestimated his fundamentalism. We have now learnt that he actually told gardaí attending criminal investigation lectures: ‘I want each one of you to attend mass on Sundays’.
Wren liked to promote religious gardaí up the ranks. This became such a well-known trait, it could be exploited. One garda – described by his colleagues as a ‘wild’ man who liked a drink – took advantage of it. He pitched up at Wren’s Church one day with a friend. When he saw Wren outside it collecting for St Vincent de Paul he seized the opportunity. “Give me a few bob”, he said to his friend and was handed a pound note which he presented to Wren. A short conversation ensued during which Wren established that the man was a garda. A promotion to sergeant followed hot on the heels of the donation. The joke in the Force was that the sergeant had “purchased his promotion for a pound”.
Magdelene Laundry slaves who escaped were rounded up by the Gardai and returned to captivity. They had committed no crimes and their detention was egregiously illegal.
In the past questions have been raised about the complicity of the Garda in hunting down the women who managed to escape the clutches of the Magdalene laundries where they were being exploited as slave labour. The presence of Wren and religious zealots like him in the ranks provides the answer. And how many children were raped because gardaí in thrall to the Church turned a blind eye to clerical child abuse?
Like all bullies, Wren liked to kick those beneath him while engaging in stints of sphincter oscillation for the pleasure of those above him. He perfected the art of brown-nosing in Limerick with the O’Malley clan of Fianna Fáil. One of his tricks was to display a copy of the Irish Press each morning on his desk. This was a signal to Fianna Fáil that he was one of theirs. Things changed when the government rotated. He would tell Fine Gael TDs canvassing his home in Dublin in later years that he was one of them.
Wren’s political skills made up for his shocking failure as a Garda intelligence officer. He became Head of C3, the élite overarching Garda Intelligence department, in 1971. At the time someone – or more likely a group – was leaking State secrets about the IRA to the British Government. Jack Lynch found out and asked John Fleming, the Head of the Special Branch, to find who the ‘spy in the camp’ was. Eventually, a Garda who worked for Wren, Patrick Crinnion, was blamed for the leaks. Crinnion never denied he was in contact with an MI6 officer as part of his intelligence-gathering duties. Assuming he was telling the truth – and he almost certainly was – it means that someone planted incriminating evidence in Crinnion’s car to make him look like the leaker. The car was parked outside the hotel where he was to meet Wyman and was taken away from the hotel by the Garda after they arrested Crinnion. There was plenty of opportunity to plant the files in the car after its removal. Whether Wren provided the files so they could be planted in the car or not, it is a fact that Wren committed perjury at Crinnion’s subsequent trial.
Crinnion was a maverick Garda Intelligence officer who reported directly to Wren. It is inconceivable that Wren did not know about the contact with MI6. Crinnion was in and out of Wren’s office every other day reporting on his work which involved thwarting IRA gun-running. Crinnion would claim at his trial that his contact with Wyman was for the purpose of gathering useful information for the Garda and that he did not pass Irish state secrets to MI6. At the trial Wren described Crinnion as a mere clerical officer. This was a blatant lie but it gave the impression that Crinnion’s contact with Wyman the Spyman was illicit. Why else would a clerk have been meeting an MI6 officer but to pass secret files to him?
As described in our earlier piece, Wren was also complicit in handing over a file to an MI6 agent which enabled MI6 to kidnap an Irish citizen suspected of subversive activity. The handover of the file took place at a meeting in Garda HQ in 1974 or early 1975. Even if Wren didn’t frame Crinnion, here he was now doing precisely what he had accused Crinnion of doing – passing files to MI6.
In 1975 Assistant Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey passed 200 files on the INLA to MI6. Those files came from C3. Garvey oversaw the work of C3. Garvey became Garda Commissioner in September 1975.
John McKeague of the Red Hand Commando (RHC). The RHC murdered Seamus Ludlow in the Republic in 1976. McKeague was an MI5 asset and proxy assassin. Wren later passed on a gold-plated opportunity to solve the Ludlow murder. Why?
Then there was the Ludlow affair, one of the sickest crimes of the Troubles. The very best that can be said about Wren’s handling of it was that he was utterly, totally and completely inept. Seamus Ludlow was murdered by a Red Hand Commando (RHC) gang in the Republic in 1976 (see Wikipedia for details.) Ludlow was a much-loved Fine Gael supporter, a kind man who played Santa Claus at Christmas for local kids and had no involvement in subversion. The RHC gang picked him up at random late at night on a dark road as he headed home and killed him simply because he was a Catholic. At the time the RHC was led by John McKeague, a sectarian serial-killing psychopath. Village readers will be more than familiar with McKeague who was one of the paedophiles involved in the rape of children at Kincora Boys’ Home. He was recruited as an informer by British military intelligence in the early 1970s and blackmailed into becoming an MI5 agent in 1976. (In this context an informer informs out of choice; an agent takes direction from his controllers.) The Garda were offered the opportunity to solve the Ludlow killing in 1979 but Wren failed to grasp it. Wren’s gyrations at the Barron Commission for his failure were laughable. If you have time, read the Barron Report on Ludlow. At worst, Wren was doing a favour for his friends in MI5. MI5 did not want one if its most prized proxy assassins or any member of his organisation to face the spotlight of extradition. Instead, McKeague went on to rape children and organise sectarian murders until 1982 when he was shot dead by what are believed to have been MI5 assets inside the INLA. At the time McKeague was threatening to expose the truth about Kincora if he was prosecuted. What he knew was that MI5 was exploiting the misery of the children at Kincora and other homes to gather blackmail material on Loyalist politicians and paramilitaries who were abusing the children. As leader of the RHC, he obviously knew the inside story of the RHC attempt to blow up Charles Haughey’s yacht in Dingle in the summer of 1981. That operation had the benefit a large dossier on Haughey, his habits and movements. MI5 and MI6 could have compiled the Haughey Dossier. The RHC certainly did not have the resources to create one. (See also, ‘Profile: The Men Who Tried to Murder Haughey’ on this website) .
Wren at a Dail Committee session. Haughey’s yacht which was the target of the Red Hand Commando
Wren’s other great failure was to fail to solve the 1972 Dublin bombings which Jack Lynch suspected had been organised by MI6 – and had stated so publicly. Wren had the fingerprint of one of the bombers but it went missing. He also had a photo-fit of the man which he did not circulate to the press. Why?
As Head of C3 throughout the 1970s Wren was responsible for wholesale tapping of the phones of journalists, trade union leaders and lawyers. His victims included Vincent Browne, editor of Magill, and Tim Pat Coogan, editor of the Irish Press. Vincent Browne sued and was awarded compensated for the intrusion. Yet, when his successors continued the practice of tapping journalists – at a much reduced rate – Wren and his lackey John Paul McMahon (another friend of MI6 – especially in his days as Chief Superintendent in Monaghan) leaked details to the press and toppled a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. This was just as well for Wren, as the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner were about to swoop on him for leaking State secrets and his involvement with MI6 dating back to the Crinnion-Wyman incident. The Deputy Commissioner had been given orders after his appointment as head of C3 to find out what “had been going on inside C3”. They came to refer to him as ‘The Mole’. Instead of facing the music, Wren became Commissioner.
Wren tapped Vincent Browne’s phone. Why?
The Majella Moynihan and Kerry Babies cases soon followed.
As Commissioner he managed to fool the press into believing he had a bad relationship with the RUC but his was most likely a cover for his illicit friendship with their masters in MI5 and MI6. This became blatantly obvious during what became known as the Moyna bugging when a group of gardaí bugged the home of Mackey Moyna while Seamus Mallon, the Deputy Leader of the SDLP, was staying at his house during the New Ireland Forum. The Moyna affair is too complex to even attempt to summarise here. Suffice it to say, the gardaí who bugged the house were acting for MI5. Wren covered the whole sordid affair up with his newly appointed intelligence chief Stephen Fanning. To preserve the skins of the real culprits, an attempt was made to frame some Republicans for the bugging. They were put on trial but acquitted.
The files on Majella Moynihan which she sought again two years ago have still not turned up. A lot of reputations are on the line.
Majella Moynihan and Jack Marrinan of the Garda Representative Body. He has been disowned by the GRA for his shameful remarks about her case. He kicked her when she was down rather than help her face the onslaught unleashed by Wren.
One reputation which is now in tatters is that of Jack Marrinan of the Garda Representative Association. He snidely denounced her in 1985 when the matter drew front-page headlines stating, “We would expect our ban-ghardaí to be moral in every way and we would not think that their morals are always or necessarily their own private business”. When Marrinan died the Irish Times described him as “a key moderniser of policing in Ireland”. That nearly betters the paper’s description of Wren as having had a reputation as a “straight dealer”.
When the case became public knowledge in 1985 Fine Gael took the position that it was an internal Garda matter.
Fianna Fáil have now proposed that she should be granted an enhanced pension. That might suffice for a start. But what about compensation?
- What price for driving her to attempt suicide five times?
- For the loss of her child?
- For driving her into St John of Gods?
- For ruining her career? She retired early in 1998.
Front page news, 6 February 1985. Fine Gael and Labour can’t deny they knew about the Majella Moynihan case. What did they do? Nothing. Fine Gael said it was an internal Garda matter.