A plain clothes on duty garda was found lying slumped in the drivers seat of an unmarked patrol car with a pistol on his lap by a couple out walking at the scenic Swiss Cottage area in Cahir an inquest hearing was told.
An inquest into the death of Garda Stephen O’ Sullivan, of Cashel Garda Station on the evening of 18th August 2010 was told that the deceased was on duty and was authorised to carry the firearm found with him in the car.
Coroner Paul Morris, before a jury, issued a verdict of death due to extensive brain injury consistent with a self inflicted bullet wound at Grangemore,Swiss Cottage Cahir.
The corner was told that since the tragedy and another one at Carrick on Shannon new guidelines had been introduced to stations all over the country regarding the access and issue of firearms.
The twenty eight year old deceased was a native of Ruan, County Clare and was described by Superintendent John Courtney as a dedicated and loyal member of the force who was held in great respect and deep affection by his colleagues in Cashel and Cahir.
The inquest heard that the body of Stephen O’Sullivan was discovered by Billy Lonergan and his wife Mary who were out walking in the Swiss Cottage area . Billy Lonergan told the inquest that he lived about a half a mile from the Swiss Cottage and went out walking after watching some of a Champions League match on television.As he was driving out of the entrance of the Swiss Cottage with his wife Mary he noticed a parked car with sparks coming out of the exhaust and observed something slumped down in the car.He stopped up and he could hear the engine roaring.Mary opened the door of the parked car and they saw a man in the drivers seat moving from side to side with blood on his neck and they both got a fright.They noticed a gun on the mans lapHe knew he had to stop the engine and he took the mans left leg off the accelerator and turned off the ignition.His wife rang the gardai.Shortly after that two garda cars arrived at the scene, one of the gardai was armed.He heard one of the guards say “he is one of ours” and they cordoned off the area.
Ronan Curran, an ambulance paramedic said he arrived at the scene at 22.20pm and saw an unmarked patrol car Gda Brendan Franlkin told him there was a man with a gunshot wound in the car.He noticed obvious signs of a gunshot wound to the head and saw a handgun in the mans lap.A GP arrived and pronounced the man dead at the scene.
The coroner was told that Gda Stephen O’Sullivan was on plain clothes duty that day.He was qualified and authorised to carry a firearm on the day.
Sgt Janet O’Neill said she was on duty that day and spoke to Stephen earlier in the day. He was in good form and she was not aware of anything that was troubling him.
Coroner Paul Morris said it was reassuring to hear that a new internal system had been introduced concerning access to firearms which he hoped would reduce the risk of further fatalities.
The coroner asked if there were procedures in place in the force that would identify and deal with issues of stress or depression with members who were under strain in their professional or personal lives.
Supt.Courtney said if a member showed signs of stress they would be withdrawn from detective duty and would be assessed by the chief Medical Officer regarding his or her ability to carry a firearm.Such situations did arise and there was a protocol in place to deal with that.
Supt Courtney said the Garda Siochanna was a caring organisation.He said in this case there were no tell tale signs that Stephen was in any difficulty.There were no precursor or signs that Stephen was in any trouble.He was a dedicated,loyal member of the force, very well liked and respected by all of his colleagues and his untimely death was a tragedy for his family and all of his colleagues.
Detective Supt Hayes said Stephen O Sullivan was issued with a firearms permit and was authorised to carry a firearm on the day although the documentation on the day was not fully completed in the station .This case and another in Carrick on Shannon led to a review of internal procedures on access to firearms and a new system was introduced.
The new system came into place in December 2010 following the death of Stephen O Sullivan and another member of the force in another incident in Carrick on Shannon.
Coroner Paul Morris said his main concern on hearing the case was the welfare of members of the force and he was pleased to be reassured that there were now more robust procedures in place regarding access to firearms and that there was a garda welfare officer system in place.
The coroner said that by its very nature the duty of a garda could involve a lot of stress and there was a welfare system in place to try and assist members who experienced difficulties.He was pleased that a new system for firearm access was introduced.
“Some lessons have been learned from this tragedy and the one in Carrick on Shannon and that is reassuring ” said the coroner.