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The NALLY STAND
Former cop, private eye and the only man on the Presidential ballot paper, derek nally is the dark horse candidate who could yet shake up the race for the Park. Here he holds forth on low standards in high places, how Sean Doherty almost destroyed the gardai , the foul treatment of Albert Reynolds, the case for the decriminalisation of prostitution and why he wasn t surprised by J. Edgar Hoover s penchant for frocks. Interview: liam fay. Pix: Cathal dawson.
Liam Fay, 15 Oct 1997
There is something grievously wrong with the soul of this nation, declares Derek Nally. There is something wrong with the body politic. I m not saying it; the alienation of people from the body politic is what s saying it. And I think that we have to clean that up.
61-year-old former Garda, Derek Nally, has described himself as the thorn among the roses in the Presidential election. The only man on the ballot paper, he secured his nomination via the county council route, by the skin of his teeth and despite attempts by Fianna Fail in particular to block vote against him.
Nally s campaign strategy is to portray himself as an Irish Serpico, an honest cop who stood up against corruption within the system. He is, he insists, an honest, straight talker with a safe pair of hands and argues that while he s old-fashioned in some senses he is radical in others.
Born in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, the son of a Garda, Nally joined the force himself in 1957. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1964 and appointed to the Garda Press Office in 1971. In 1973, he began a ten year tenure as General Secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
It was in this role that Nally came to national prominence. He had several clashes with Garda authorities and senior politicians, most notably over the Heavy Gang established in the early 1970s to beat confessions out of suspected terrorists. He also came into serious conflict with Charlie Haughey and Fianna Fail Justice Minister, Sean Doherty, over the tapping of journalists phones and over Doherty s involvement in an infamous would you like a pint or a transfer incident in Co. Roscommon.
In 1983, on his retirement from the Gardam, Nally founded the Irish Association for Victim Support. He is presently Honorary President of the Association and continues to be involved in every aspect of its work. He is, however, keen to scotch the suggestion that he s only standing for President to help raise the profile of the organisation.
He similarly rejects accusations that he is really a Fine Gael candidate in civilian clothes. Somebody said, Let him get his nomination from his Blueshirt friends . The only blue shirt I ever wore was one in the Guards, he asserts.
Nally is now a private detective by profession and the managing director of a thriving group of security firms with offices in Bunclody, Dublin and Northern Ireland.
Some years ago, he was featured in a Channel 4 documentary, Looking For Billy, about the search for a Tallaght man who had voluntarily gone missing. After four months of sleuthing, Nally tracked Billy down in Jersey. Nally was named Investigator of the Year by the British Association of Investigators in 1995.
Derek Nally lives in Bunclody, Co. Wexford, with his wife Joan. The couple have two grown-up daughters.
Liam Fay: Mary Robinson said, I am of Ireland, come dance with me. What does Derek Nally say?
Derek Nally: (Pause) I am Derek Nally, come and follow the lead, the lead which will provide for standards, a value system that values decency and respectability and that does not tolerate low standards in high places. I cannot understand, for the life of me, how anybody in high places in this country can go out and lecture to the young people in deprived areas of this city, or any other city, as to how they should regulate their lives when they are committing ten times bigger crimes themselves. You lead by example. That s what I would hope to do. I m not squeaky clean. I m like any other family person but I don t believe I have any major skeletons in my cupboard. I have nothing to hide. There will be nothing major found wrong with me.
Do you believe that people who commit crimes of tax evasion should go to jail?
Yes. If it s serious enough and if they re convicted. What I d like to see is the courts regarding tax evasion as any other crime on the statute books.
If he s convicted, should Charlie Haughey go to jail? Or, should an allowance be made for the fact that he s elderly and has been Taoiseach?
There s a lot of elderly people who have gone to jail. It wouldn t be I who would make that final decision. There s a lot of things that have to be taken into account. Despite the fact that Charlie Haughey and I never had a love relationship, I think that he should be dealt with as any other citizen. The courts should decide whether he should go to jail.
There s a lot of cynicism out there about the Gardam. Knowing what you know, are there many bent cops in the force?
I don t believe so. Now, I don t know. I m gone out of the Guards ten years. But I don t believe for one moment that the Garda Siochana is a corrupt force. Far from it. I ve travelled worldwide and we have one of the finest police forces in the world. That s not to say that you don t have individual people who may corrupt within it. But the body is far from being corrupt.
Did you ever know a corrupt cop?
No, no, no. Never knew one and I served with a lot of men. You d get mean fellas who might take a pint off of somebody or something like that. I don t see that as corruption. I see that as meanness. They just don t want to pay for their own pint. But they mightn t pay for it when they re with me either. I regard that as meanness and it s up to the publican not to give it to him.
What do you think of Zero Tolerance?
As I interpreted it, it d be crazy. Who would ve thought ten years ago that the Commissioner of the Guards, Pat Byrne, would ve come out against his government Minister and say that he didn t agree with Zero Tolerance? He couldn t understand it. A lot of people couldn t understand it. What did it mean? If there was no grey in this world, it would be a sad world. Most countries will tell you that the best law-enforcement people in the world are Irishmen. The Americans will certainly tell you that. It s because we have a bit of tolerance and discretion. That s what policing is all about.
Should the Gardam be armed?
No. I ve always held against it and will continue to hold against it. When the Guards were formed in 1922, when the state was being established, we had a much greater need for the Guards to be armed than today. You still had remnants of the Civil War and everything else going on. A decision was taken that time not to arm them and I think that was one of the greatest decisions taken at the founding of the state. I thank them for taking it and I don t believe that anybody should ever break it. I think it would have to go very far, miles further than it has gone today for it to happen. Violence begets violence. When you re making judgement calls in the police, you cannot retract them. How many judgement calls do we all make every day and we say to ourselves, Christ, I should have done something different. You can t retract a bullet.
Are you in favour of capital punishment?
Never believed in it.
Even for the murder of Gardam?
No. I m a great believer in imprisonment and that imprisonment should mean what it means. If you get 20 years, that should mean 20 years, less remission for good behaviour only.
As President, would you visit the jails as Mary Robinson frequently did?
I have no problem about visiting jails. With Victim Support, I have always pointed out that we are very pro victim, but we are not anti offender. I have great sympathy with some offenders that are in jail today. They re there because they came from deprived backgrounds. They never had the self-esteem or got any recognition to make them anything more than what they are.
The Gardam are always complaining about their limited resources and limited manpower. And yet, they expend great energy hassling people for smoking a bit of dope. Isn t the resources issue alone a good case for decriminalising cannabis?
No. If I was satisfied that cannabis had no downside, either on a person s health or on a person developing greater taste for more hard drugs, I would see nothing wrong with legalising cannabis. But all the evidence that I have seen to date would indicate the opposite. Because it s a hot substance much hotter than nicotine or alcohol constant use of cannabis eventually damages your brain. It certainly dulls your brain. Anything, including alcohol, that damages you is not good. However, there is no point in drawing the analogy with alcohol. Alcohol exists in our society. I can t see prohibition working in Ireland.
It s not working with cannabis either.
No, it s not working but I still don t think you legalise it, because it s going to be damaging. Just because the one is there and can be damaging, I don t think you legalise another one.
So, you have no problem with the absurdity of a Garda with a hangover arresting someone with a joint in their possession?
It may be absurd but that s what happens. If you re asking me honestly if I favour the legalisation of cannabis, with the evidence that I have to date, then the answer is no.
Another massive drain on Garda resources is the policing of prostitution. 100 people clients and women have been arrested on Benburb Street alone in recent times. Again, doesn t the resources issue provide a convincing argument in favour of the decriminalisation of prostitution?
I must say that we re looking at two totally different things here, between legalising cannabis and decriminalising prostitution. I don t see a lot against prostitution, if it s controlled. The greatest downside of prostitution is the disease aspect but that could be controlled if it was decriminalised. I ve travelled the world and I wouldn t see it as damaging Irish society.
You have been involved in several youth clubs and have worked with the National Youth Council. What do you think it is that young people are looking for?
They want some recognition. They don t want to be patronised to any great extent. They want to be allowed to develop themselves. They want to be allowed a certain amount of freedom. The humiliation of young people is something I hate. Maybe this is a hang-up of mine but I go back to my own schooldays: I often got up to 20 slaps of the leather on my hand at the one session and it didn t worry me in the least. As a matter of fact, I was kind of a bit of a macho man if I didn t cry. But I ll tell you what did get to me and could ve got to me if I didn t have as strong a will: some teacher coming in and saying, No point in talking to you, Nally, you wouldn t know B from a bull s foot. Putting people down, making little of people, destroys their self-esteem. I don t believe that anybody does themselves any justice by demeaning anybody else. The most recent example of this, in my book, was the way Albert Reynolds was treated.
In what way?
I don t know Albert Reynolds and if he was a candidate in the Presidential election, I probably wouldn t have voted for him. But I still don t believe he should ve been treated the way he was. I do not believe that there wasn t an easier way of not damaging Albert Reynolds. Despite the fact that he is very much a macho man, I don t believe that he couldn t have been called in in advance and told whatever the reason was Fianna Fail wanted to get rid of him. They brought in somebody else over his head. That decision wasn t made the day before the vote, that was a calculated decision. If I was Taoiseach of the day, I would have called in Albert Reynolds and said, Albert, you re unelectable, and for that reason we have decided that we cannot support your candidature and, if you insist on standing, we re going to have to vote against you.
Was the problem a lack of spine on Bertie Ahern s part?
I don t know. You should have the guts to look somebody in the eye. I watched that episode. My heart is fairly tough and my heart went out to Albert Reynolds. The man was stunned after that decision. He just couldn t believe it. You don t do that with anybody and enhance yourself in the process.
Is it ever right to break the law?
Ah well, let s look at begging, for instance, that s breaking the law. And it looks very bad for tourists. But I see begging as a social problem, not a criminal problem. I see the same about vagrancy, wandering abroad without visible means of support. Whose fault is that? It is impossible to make laws that are going to be 100% right the whole time. As society moves on, we should look at all the laws on our statute books and distinguish between crimes and social problems, and tackle the social problems in some other way.
Have you ever knowingly broken a law yourself?
(Smiles broadly) There have been occasions when I was on licensed premises during prohibited hours. But I don t believe I broke any serious laws. I might have driven a car without a back light or a front light but I haven t broken any laws that would offend people.
You re an award-winning investigator. If you were let loose on the Ansbacher Accounts, would you get to the bottom of them?
Well, I d do as good a job, if not possibly a slightly better job, than the tribunal. But I can see the problems that the tribunal had in relation to the Ansbacher Accounts. They got a lot of confidential information, presumably on the basis of anonymity. I d have my professional skills and nose for a trail but the problem is I wouldn t have the same credibility as a tribunal.
As a private detective, what do you charge an hour?
#36, plus expenses is the rate. It s a little bit more for me. If somebody wants me, I m a little bit more than #36 but I ll keep the amount to myself.
In the Looking For Billy documentary, you eventually tracked down your man. If you had a single piece of advice for someone who wanted to go missing and didn t want to be tracked down by someone like you, what would it be?
Get far enough away. Go to Indonesia or Singapore, someplace where you can really disappear. I shouldn t be telling you this because I don t want to encourage people to run away. But don t go somewhere you re gonna stick out.
How typical was that documentary of your work?
Untypical. We do very few missing persons. Most of the people who go missing are ordinary, decent, law-abiding, non-moneyed people and their families couldn t afford a major search. Our main work would be insurance investigations, people claiming whiplash injuries, all that type of thing. Security consultancies. Internal thefts and frauds. Tracing debtors.
Now that we have divorce legislation in Ireland, are you spending a lot of time compiling dossiers of compromising information on philandering spouses?
We don t do that. We did it for the first couple of years. There s nothing wrong with it, ethically. The problem we had was that, invariably, you were called in by wives who suspected their husbands were having affairs. So, in most cases, you re depending upon the housewife s pocket money or housekeeping money to get paid. Private investigation is a business. You have to pay staff, PAYE, PRSI, professional indemnity insurance. You re not a philanthropic society. The worst payers that we had were those people. I did it for about two years but that s all.
So you don t sit outside bedroom windows with a long-range lens?
Ah no. This in flagrante delicto stuff is for the birds. TV stuff. Where in the name of God are you gonna see that kind of stuff? That s Maxwell Smart stuff.
What s your favourite TV cop show?
I like Hill Street Blues. I think it s the nearest thing to reality that you ll get from the States.
Do you read much crime fiction?
No, I don t read much at all. Haven t done for the last number of years. I spend my days proofing and reading reports. Dull stuff, mostly. When I finish in the evening, the last thing I want to do is read.
Were you ever at a rock concert?
(Pause) If I have to think about it, I mustn t have been. I don t believe I was. I like light classical music, Chopin. I m very fond of some of the Irish bands. Not so much Country n Western, more Paddy Reilly. I like Elton John s song about Diana too, that type of thing.
Should the Gardam stop viewing the IRA as a threat and accept their bona fides now that Sinn Fein are in talks?
I think it s too early to stop at least looking at them.
Would you ever trust the IRA?
Oh, I would. I d trust them when they had proved their credentials. We ll have to see some concrete proof. But when I heard yesterday evening on the news that a policeman had stopped one of the Sinn Fein negotiators going home and examined his papers, I was very annoyed! If I had him in my force, I d transfer him as far away from Belfast as I possibly could. You don t do that type of thing. It was somebody who had nothing between his ears. And if he had something between his ears, it s much more dangerous because he was then using his position for something that he shouldn t have used it for. I say this as someone who wouldn t vote for Sinn Fein.
Were you surprised to learn that the legendary FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover was a cross-dresser?
No, I wasn t a bit surprised. Anything that comes out about J. Edgar Hoover wouldn t surprise me. Apparently, he blackmailed every politician in America. Anybody who s prepared to do that is prepared to cross-dress twice a day.
While he was Cathaoirleach of the Seanad some years ago, Sean Doherty was automatically a member of the Council of State. That situation could arise again and would surely cause you problems as President. You can t have a lot of personal admiration for the man.
If he was entitled to be on the Council of State, there d be nothing I could do about that. He d be on the Council of State. He would have something to say. And I d give that the weight I thought it deserved, taking his background and everything else into account.
Who was the best Minister of Justice we ve had during your time?
Going back to my Garda days, I thought the best Minister for Justice we had was Dessie O Malley. Up the line after that, I m biased, very biased in as much as she was the first person to recognise the value of Victim Support, and that was Maire Geohghegan-Quinn. She increased our grant by 600% in one year. I have to say that her successor, Nora Owen, was a very good Minister as well, as far as Victim Support were concerned. People have said that Victim Support got no money for years because Charlie didn t like me. I don t know whether that was the case but I do know that we didn t get much money while he was there.
Who was the worst Minister for Justice?
The only man to reduce Victim Support s grant was a Fine Gael minister, Alan Dukes. He reduced it from #10,000 to #8,000. I was very annoyed over that. Dukes was only there for a short time but I think he made the greatest mistakes. He abolished the compensation for pain and suffering clause in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Court. He had very little feeling for victims and, as a very pro-victim person, I was very disappointed in him.
So, Dukes was even worse than Doherty?
Ah no, no, no, there s no comparison between the two men at all. I m not saying that Alan Dukes was the worst minister, he was one of the least perceptive as far as Victim Support were concerned. There is no doubt about it but that Sean Doherty was the worst Minister for Justice. He did more damage to the Garda Siochana than any other minister, and he was a former Guard himself it must be remembered. He almost destroyed the force.
In what way?
He went very close to destroying it. Two commissioners actually resigned. It was a case of them having to resign. Charlie Haughey and Sean Doherty were responsible for that.
What did you make of the attempts to publicly rehabilitate Sean Doherty in recent years?
Every man is entitled to be rehabilitated. All I would say is I would have to see the light shining through his eyes before I could rehabilitate him.
Mary Robinson made a point of welcoming groups representing marginalised people such as travellers and the gay community to The @ras. Would President Derek Nally continue that tradition?
I think by highlighting any particular group, you kind of categorise them as well. I don t know whether travellers, for instance, should be afforded any more rights than settled people. I m a great believer in equality right across the board. If travellers are entitled to be nomadic by tradition, I have no problem with that but I don t believe in travellers breaking the law anymore than I believe in settled people breaking the law. The same with people s sexual orientation. That s not to say that I wouldn t have homosexual groups or travellers to The Park. If I did, I d have settled people and heterosexual people as well.
What would be the criteria by which you d decide who to invite?
It would all depend on what circumstances arose. Let s say a travellers group wrote to me and wanted some recognition for some work they were doing, I d certainly meet them. But I d also tell them when I met them that, I believe that you have a duty to the settled population. I believe you have a right to your nomadic lifestyle but you must do it in conformity with what is regarded as the norm in Irish society.
So you d meet fewer groups than Mary Robinson has done?
Hypothetically, it s very difficult to say that at this stage. Mary Robinson did an excellent job of going out and reaching out to people and meeting groups. I would like to see it, in one sense, going a bit further. I would like the President to be able to go to the races in Naas next Sunday, to be able to mingle with the crowd and nobody kind of being worried about him being shot. I d like to be able to go into my local in Bunclody and sit down and have an Irish whiskey. I intend to break the mould to this extent; I intend to go home to Bunclody as often as I can and sleep in my own bed.
Do you think you re going to win?
Yes. I think I have a major uphill battle still. I believe in myself and I believe I m the best candidate. I believe that my track record is better than any of the other candidates. I think I ve proved myself.
Will you be disappointed if you don t?
No. I ll feel that the people missed something. I ll feel they missed a good President. n