Shatter tests patience of Garda sergeants and inspectors
Minister for Justice’s visit to Garda conference ‘like an adult coming in to lecture kids’
Agsi general secretary John Redmond (left), Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Agsi vice-president Antoinette Cunningham yesterday at the association’s conference in Sligo. Photograph: James Connolly/Picsell
A small number of delegates walked out after he began his address. At the conclusion of his remarks nobody applauded. In between, he told delegates no one in the room could accuse him of not battling hard for the Garda when Government spending was being allocated.
He reminded them gardaí were still better paid than other public servants and said their association and the Garda Representative Association (GRA) had lost their way in recent times.
After then briefly speaking to the media he left, opting not to stay on for a meal or drink with the gardaí has many of predecessors did.
His parting shot, as he left the hotel, was reportedly to tell Agsi general secretary John Redmond he hoped for more measured remarks the next time he met the association.
“It wasn’t exactly a charm offensive, was it?” said one delegate about the Minister’s frosty visit. It followed a warning from Garda management to Mr Redmond two weeks ago that he risked criminal prosecution if he and his national executive encouraged Garda members to engage in any form of industrial action.
That move was in response to the Agsi’s and the GRA’s ongoing protest over proposed pay cuts under the extension of the Croke Park agreement. The associations have encouraged their members not to use their personal phones, laptops and cars for work. The members are also refusing to work overtime on “non-public” duties such as policing concerts and sports events.
It is a criminal offence for any member of the Garda to withdraw service or induce others to do so, as Mr Redmond and his Agsi colleagues were recently reminded.
In his speech to the conference last night, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan reminded delegates they must remain professional and dedicated. He also want off script to reassure those present several times that he understood they were facing serious financial pain and that many were “disgusted” at the economic collapse.
His remarks resonated with those present and he was afforded a warm round of applause, unlike Mr Shatter.
Despite talk of Garda morale being at an all-time low, with members of the force under financial pressure, there has been little sense of that at the Agsi conference.
The association’s members appear slightly more resigned to their financial positions, or at least accustomed to them, than might have been expected. When Michael McDowell was minister for justice and was introducing the Garda Siochána Act 2005 – which provided for the Garda reserve and the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission – they was a more palpable sense of anger at him from Agsi and the GRA than there was for Mr Shatter this week.
Previously, both associations resented the fact that a reserve force was being created to work for free alongside full-time members. They were also livid at the establishment of the Ombudsman Commission, under which civilian investigators were give powers to arrest, detain and search gardaí and their houses as part of the investigation of complaints against members of the force.
This time around it is Mr Shatter’s bedside manner that appears to getting under the skin of gardaí. They see him as aloof and patronising.
“He’s like an adult coming in to lecture a load of kids,” said one delegate.
While that attitude may not worry Mr Shatter too much at the moment, if the Agsi and the GRA step up their protests when the threatened pay cuts under the new Croke Park agreement become a reality, the Minister may find himself having instilled fire in the belly of Garda members that could lead to a longer and more bitter dispute than necessary.