Michael Joseph Staines was born on 1 May 1885 in Kiltarnaght near Newport, Co Mayo. His family moved to Dublin in 1904 and lived at Murtagh Road in Stoneybatter. Staines worked at Henshaw’s ironmongers on Parliament Street and joined the Irish Volunteers at their inaugural meeting in November 1913. Following a stint as quartermaster of the Dublin brigade, he took up the position of quartermaster general of the national movement on 16 March 1916. He also held the rank of captain.
Staines spent the morning of Easter Monday 1916 delivering arms to the rebels’ headquarters at the GPO before leading the assault on the top floor of the building, which was held by a group of Connaught Rangers.
On the Thursday of Easter week he led a sortie to Williams Lane, between Abbey and Prince’s Street, to retrieve the wounded James Connolly, bringing him back to the GPO for medical treatment.
By Friday afternoon, the GPO was under heavy fire. The building ‘was alight in every quarter and the front portion was a roaring furnace’, according to a later account. The order was given to evacuate.
Staines was in the last group of rebels to leave, carrying Connolly on a stretcher alongside Pádraig Pearse, Willie Pearse and Judge Law Smith’s chauffeur. The men placed Connolly on a bed in a property at Moore Street before cutting through the houses and arriving at Sackville Lane, where The O’Rahilly lay dead. On the Saturday, Staines selected six men and carried Connolly on a stretcher towards Dublin Castle to negotiate terms. They were booed almost the entire way by the gathering crowds who at times came close to attacking the party.
In the years following the Rising Staines remained heavily involved in Irish politics and played an active role in the War of Independence.
He sat on the supreme council of the IRB, was elected commandant of the rebel prisoners at Frongoch internment camp in Wales. On his release from Frongoch, he collaborated with Éamon de Valera, James Ryan, Eamonn Duggan and others in founding the New Ireland Assurance Collecting Society, in furtherance of the Sinn Féin policy of investment in Ireland. He was elected Director for Supply for Sinn Féin on 27 October 1917. He was also elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the Dublin St. Michan’s constituency at the 1918 general election. He attended Dáil Éireann, working closely with the legal side of government, as well as becoming a Dublin Corporation alderman. He was re-elected in 1921 and 1922 for the Dublin North–West constituency. He later served in the Free State Seanad.
He was on the Grangegorman Mental Hospital Board. He is perhaps best remembered as the first commissioner of the Garda Síochána, of which he said, ‘The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people.’ Appointed in April 1922, he was forced to retreat from the Kildare Depot during the Civic Guard Mutiny by recruits the following month. Staines was replaced as commissioner by Eoin O’Duffy in September 1922. Prior to the formation of the Garda, Staines and O’Duffy had acted as liaisons between the RIC and the Irish Republican Police during the Truce which preceded the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
He died in 1955 and is buried in Clontarf alongside his wife, Julia, and daughter Sheila.