GRA considers uniformed march

The attendance of gardai at an anti-Government rally in their uniforms would represent a challenge to the authority of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

The attendance of gardai at an anti-Government rally in their uniforms would represent a challenge to the authority of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 00:00

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has suggested that gardaí break regulations and attend a rally next week against pay cuts dressed in their uniforms.

The move would be a major embarrassment for the Government and would put the association, which represents 11,300 rank and file gardaí in a force of 13,400, on a major collision course with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

He would be forced to intervene to block the move or to penalise those involve if it went ahead. However, Mr Shatter would find it very difficult to identify, and have a disciplinary process begun against, a large number of gardaí.

It would also leave him open to the charge that he had lost control of the force.

The attendance of gardaí at an anti-Government rally in their uniforms would also represent a challenge to the authority of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Part of the oath sworn by gardaí when they assume their full Garda powers after training is to remain apolitical.

The idea to rally in uniform at a protest next Monday was mooted yesterday at a behind-closed-doors meeting of the national executives of unions and representative bodies of those frontline and emergency workers aligned to the 24/7 Frontline Services Alliance.

They include Garda members, nurses, psychiatric nurses, fire fighters and prison officers. There are two Garda bodies in the alliance, namely the GRA and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi).

The GRA put forward the idea that gardai in uniform would attend the rally at the Basket Arena, Tallaght, Dublin, next Monday night. It is being organised by the 24/7 alliance as a form of protest against proposed pay cuts, specifically against cuts to premium pay.

Informed sources said the level of militancy within the ranks of the Garda over reduced remuneration and resources was at an all time high and that the GRA leadership is being put under pressure by its membership to take a harder line.

Other sources said while the suggestion by the organisation that its members would attend in uniforms represented the GRA taking such a hardened approach, they doubted if the proposal would come to fruition.

The same sources said all frontline workers may wear 24/7 Alliance caps rather than rally dressed in different uniforms.

A spokesman for the GRA said he did not believe gardai would rally in their uniforms. When asked if senior people in the association wanted those in attendance to wear their Garda uniforms he said he could not comment.

The Association’s national executive this morning began its two-day monthly meeting in Dublin. It is gathering against a backdrop in the past fortnight of a number of local meetings at which members passed votes of no confidence in Mr Shatter and Commissioner Callinan.

Members also voted at local meetings in favour of industrial action, which they are banned from undertaking, and in favour of work-to-rule protests.

While gardaí are permitted to attend events when they are off duty and in their civilian clothes, they are strictly forbidden from attending any event in their uniforms even when off duty.

Members of the force are banned from joining political parties and last year a request was declined to let a small number of gay and lesbian gardaí take part in the Pride march in Dublin dressed in their uniforms.

Garda management believed such participation could be regarded as political and they also felt it would be confusing to have gardaí in uniform taking part in a parade that would be policed by other members in uniform.

The only event gardaí have attended dressed in uniforms has been St. Patrick’s Day parades in the US, when the regulations have been relaxed because those events have been outside the State.

The last time the GRA became involved in a similar plan was in 2006 when it threatened to campaign against Government TDs in marginal seats in the general election.

In a row over the introduction of the Garda reserve, it said it would be “waiting in the long grass” during the election and would encourage others to vote against five Fianna Fail-PD government TDs with slim majorities at previous elections.

However, then minister for justice Michael McDowell and then garda commissioner Noel Conroy reacted furiously to the plan and the association effectively backed down with 24 hours.

Mr McDowell warned gardaí to stay out of politics. Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy said all members had taken an oath to be apolitical and he said he would sanction any garda who broke this oath.