Ireland's top police official was fired suddenly last Thursday after a series of embarrassing scandals that ranged from reported strongarm interrogation tactics to allegations of fake fingerprint identifications.

Edmund Garvey, the police commissioner, was removed from office at two hours' notice as his escalating unpopularity within the 9,000-strong police force reached a dangerous level and his alleged mishandling of sensitive issues was seen as damaging the force's public image.

A major factor contributing to Garvey's dismissal was the stir that rocked the force when some police officers charged that fake fingerprint identifications were being used to link suspects to crimes.

The blunt commissioner's 29-year career as a policeman came to an abrupt end when he was called to the office of Justice Minister Gerry Collins, who told him that he had two hours to resign or else be fired.

Garvey, 63, refused to resign and was immediately removed from office. No reasons for the dismissal were given in a terse, one-sentence official statement announcing the firing.

Opposition politicans have called for an explanation from Prime Minister Jack Lynch but they are unlikely to make Garvey's dismissal a major political issue.

Garvey was a appointed police chief when the coalition government led by Liam Cosgrave was in power, and opposition leaders probably fear that if they push Lynch an inquiry could reveal facts embarrassing to them.

The commissioner's policies had embarrassed the coalition government before it was defeated in June's election. In March the Irish Times published exposes describing brutal interrogation methods used against suspects by a group of policemen known within the force as the "heavy gang."

Garvey and Cosgrave denied the existence of such a squad, but an investigation by Amnesty International backed up the newspaper's conclusion, causing embarrassment abroad to Ireland, which was then accusing Britain of using similar methods in Northern Ireland.

The image of the police force under Garvey received a further blow after revelations of conflict among police officers over the fingerprint identification of a suspect in the assassination of the British ambassador to Dublin. The chief of the fingerprint section claimed to have evidence of a suspect from a print found at the scene of the crime, but two colleagues contested his findings and proved that the fingerprint was actually one of their own.

The two experts who discovered the apparent falsification were subsequently demoted by Garvey, but went outside the force to press their case.

One of the most bizzare actions by Garvey was his attempt to prosecute five leaders of the policemen's union for sedition in Ireland's special antiterriorism court because they criticized him in their magazines.

The state prosecutor, however, refused to cooperate in bringing charges against the five.

This incident, which was revealed publicly only this weekend was one of the main arguments used when the policemen's leaders went to Justice Minster Collins to demand Garvey's removal. The leaders also said the commissioners' harsh disciplinary measures were destroying police morale.

The government had asked for Garvey's resignation on two other occassions before he was finally dismissed, according to reliable sources. he stubbornly refused to resign, presumably thinking that the government would not actually fire him.

A deputy commissioner, Patrick McLaughlin, was appointed to succeed Garvey.