Dispute between Minister and Garda unions escalates
GRA decides not to invite Shatter to its annual conference in Mayo next month
Members of the Garda Representative Association protest outside Government Buildings yesterday over proposed public service cuts. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Relations between the Government and the gardaí have hit a new low after the latest row between Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).
While some of his Cabinet colleagues have reservations about Mr Shatter’s abrasive style, most of them strongly back him in the stand-off with the AGSI.
The organisation yesterday accused the Minister of being arrogant and condescending while he deplored the atmosphere at the AGSI Annual conference in Sligo. “I’m pleased my wife didn’t accompany me to that event because I don’t think their conduct could be described as courteous or reasonable,” said Mr Shatter.
AGSI general secretary John Redmond insisted he had treated Mr Shatter with respect at the conference. However, he said the Minister had not spoken to him as he walked him from the hotel after his address, but as they parted outside Mr Shatter told Mr Redmond he hoped the AGSI would engage with him more maturely in the future. Mr Redmond then told Mr Shatter his behaviour was unbecoming of a Minister.
It also emerged last night that the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has decided not to invite Mr Shatter to its annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, next month, saying it had no confidence in him.
While former minister for justice Michael McDowell did not receive an invite to address the conference during a row over the establishment of the Garda Reserve, he was invited to share a meal with the association and accepted it.
Members of the GRA also picketed the Taoiseach’s department yesterday in protest at cuts to Garda resources and pay. In the Dáil on Tuesday Enda Kenny had said the Garda should not have walked out of the recent pay talks.
The GRA represents 11,200 rank-and-file gardaí, while the AGSI Represents about 2,000 sergeants and inspectors; a combined membership of just over 13,000 in a total force of 13,400.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins TD said Mr Shatter needed to “stop digging”. He said his “arrogance” in dealing with Garda members had caused a breakdown in relations between gardaí and the Government.
Both Garda associations are engaged in protest actions over proposed cuts to their pay under the new Croke Park agreement. They are refusing to use their personal phones, cars and laptops for official duty and are also refusing to make themselves available to work overtime at major events that require a large policing presence such as football matches and music concerts.
Senior officers are fearful the worsening relations between most Garda members and Mr Shatter may lead to a long and protracted protest action. Adding to the situation is the vow by the AGSI to take legal action if required to defend four of its members threatened with disciplinary action, up to dismissal, after they walked out of Mr Shatter’s and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s addresses to delegates.
Both men are livid at what they see as such an open challenge to their authority, with the commissioner saying the walkouts were disrespectful and would not be tolerated.
The four sergeants, from the Carlow-Kilkenny division, were mandated by a vote of their members locally to walk out to demonstrate their lack of confidence in both men. The four have been summoned to the Garda College in Templemore this afternoon to appear before Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning, who is in charge of human resources.
And in another development last night, Mr Shatter released a statement accusing an “unexpected number of gardaí” of accessing the Pulse computer database to check details of the arrest of Clare Daly TD (Ind) in January on suspicion of drink-driving. She was handcuffed but later cleared of any wrongdoing.
Mr Shatter said, arising from complaints by Ms Daly that her privacy had been breached, he raised the issue with the commissioner. The reply indicated that gardaí had accessed the records on the Pulse computer database and that steps were being taken to ensure stricter compliance with data protection rules.