Retired Assistant Commissioner Catherine Clancy
Interviewed 25 October 2021
HANKERING FOR PLAIN CLOTHES
Catherine Clancy was the first woman to be appointed an assistant commissioner in An Garda Síochána on 10 September 2003. A native of Donegal, she joined AGS in 1975 and enjoyed steady promotion through the ranks. In 2008, she surprised many of her colleagues when she took early retirement.
For more about the experience of women in AGS, visit HERE.Here, Catherine discusses in detail, her ambition to move towards the plain clothes (detective) side of AGS work.
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: My hankering for working in plain clothes got its initiation in watching Cagney and Lacey and all the exciting stuff that they were all involved in but what actually, you know, fundamentally what started that influence was, I was in Naas at the time of the disappearance of Phyllis Murphy and you will recall that she was at a bus stop outside Newbridge and she was never seen after that. She was after getting her hair done on Christmas Eve and I was involved in that investigation. It was a big investigation and all of the Technical Bureau were down and they were involved in that and I was working with the Detective Sergeant at the time. Tom Connolly was his name and I worked with Tom when he was doing interviews of witnesses who were females and I was also involved out in searches in the Curragh with Members of the Technical Bureau. Then we’d be going to the conferences in the evening, they’d have a conference every evening just to see what progress had been made and all the information was coming in and oh boy, that was really, that was really getting involved in what I consider to be the big stuff.
Then it was decided again that either at government level or a higher level in our own organisation that the Technical Bureau needed to expand to include an investigation section who went out with all the technical elements, with the photographers, with the fingerprint people, the scenes of crime people but to have their own dedicated investigation section. So they sent out looking for applicants for that and needless to say I applied and to my great surprise I was successful and that was a first for women to be actually appointed a Detective. There were female guards, Ban Gardai in Dublin and all the other cities who had worked in plain clothes with maybe the drug squad or the Special Detective Units, you know, undercover work on again, you know, taking statements from female witnesses and the female perpetrators of crime but none of them were ever appointed. So 1980 was the first appointment of a female detective and that was myself.
The next eight years was probably what I would regard as the best eight years in my entire career. I was a part of this investigation section. Forty men went into the investigation section and myself. Now I know that another female, I think was successful at the interview but declined to take the position when it was offered because it was going to involve an awful lot of travelling and there was a lot of travelling. Again, we were divided into different teams. There was an Inspector in charge of each team and there was two Superintendents in the bureau at the time. John Courtney being one, Hubert Reynolds was the other. So, I was kind of floating among all of the teams and it was just a case when they really needed something, you know, they needed the assistance of a female member and that caused, you know, some I won’t say waves but trying to make your mark and trying to be taken seriously sometimes fell a cropper. For example, I can recall going into a particular station where a murder had occurred. The Bureau were on their way and in walks the Bureau, I was walking behind John Courtney who was going to be the Superintendent in charge and the local Superintendent when he saw me said to John:
“oh John thank God you brought your own typist because I haven’t got one”.
MR. FARRELLY: Oh my God.
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: Well I was to say I was incensed is an understatement. I was a hotshot Detective. We all need typists, they were very important but I was a Detective and this was said. So, you know, it really did take a while for that sort of level of acceptance that we were just the same as the lads and, you know, that person did me a huge favour by saying that to John Courtney because one of the greatest jobs on any kind of a major investigation, not necessarily a murder, it could have been any of the big investigations we were involved in, was to be the Book Man as they were called. And this was the person who was in charge of the incident room who coordinated absolutely everything that went on. Who gave out the jobs, you know, under the direction of the Superintendent or the Inspector who was in charge but you were in the hub of it. You were in the middle of it and you knew everything that was going on and it was magic and for the first time in all the times that I went out with the Bureau and with John Courtney or Hubert Reynolds, John turned around to me and he said, “Catherine, you do the Book”. So, magic.
MR. FARRELLY: You had arrived.
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: I had arrived and it was just and I just wonder and I often thought about it afterwards, if this wasn’t said about you brought your own typist, would it have happened? But I had worked with John on several occasions before that so he knew I was well able to do it and then the other thing then about the Book Man, or Book Person, nearly now but the Book Man was the person who wrote the report at the end of the investigation and, you know, to get the opportunity to do that, for me was just so wonderful and I always think of John Courtney and hold him in high esteem for giving me that opportunity because once you do it once and they know you can do it, well you’ll get a chance to do it again and it’s a job that everybody wanted to be doing.
MR. FARRELLY: What about promotion then at that stage Catherine? I know you were eight years doing this and then promotion at this stage had you been going up for promotion?
RETIRED ASST. COMM. CLANCY: You know I had, John. I had gone up several times for promotion and do you know what, I never understood why I didn’t get it. There were no women Sergeants. There was one or two but, you know, there was no woman Sergeant in the Bureau. Now I wasn’t necessarily going up for Detective Sergeant because I think maybe at that stage when the last time I went up anyway, the ruling had been made that even if you were in the Detective Branch for a long time, if you got promoted you had to go out into uniform and there was a great reason for that, you know, because it made the uniform section and the detective section work closely together and the reasons for doing it were very good. But oh yeah, yeah there were several times I went up. Went up in plain clothes and absolutely gutted when I didn’t make it and I’d say it actually took me five times going up. The last time I went up, I said, this is my last time and after this I’m going settle down and I’m going to forget about being promoted and that of course, needless to say, that was the time I got it. That was in 1989.