6,000 of garda rank are now opposed to GRA


MOST officers of garda rank now appear to oppose their statutory staff association, the Garda Representation (GRA).

Almost half the 27 Garda divisions have now signalled no confidence in or, in some cases, outright opposition to the GRA leadership, it has been learned.

However, the GRA's central executive committee (CEC) yesterday voted against four motions of no confidence in the general secretary, Mr John Ferry, over his public criticism of the Minister for Justice, Mrs Owen.

While Mr Ferry retains a majority of support among CEC members, the association's membership now appears to oppose him.

Nine Garda divisions have now signed or are in the process of signing motions of no confidence in his leadership.

These divisions are Cork East (including the new division of Cork City); Kerry; the Garda College; Carlow Kildare; Wexford; Mayo; Galway West; Roscommon Galway East; and Limerick. All had previously supported Mr Ferry's leadership.

Allied with four divisions, Louth Meath, Cavan Monaghan, Tipperary and Cork West, which have been abstaining from attending CEC meetings in opposition to Mr Ferry's leadership for almost two years, the total of 13 divisions represents about 3,500 gardai.

Together with the 2,500 gardai who broke away from the GRA completely in 1994 to form their own association, the Garda Federation, it would appear that as many as 6,000 gardai now oppose the GRA leadership. There are 8,300 officers of garda rank in 27 divisions.

The GRA leadership is not expected to back down in face of the opposition, but may allow the dissent to come before its annual conference next year.

One division did sign a motion of confidence in Mr Ferry. However, since this motion was tabled there has been a campaign of opposition to the local representatives. A letter has been circulated within the division complaining about the GRA leadership.

The Clare circular states: "How much longer are members of the GRA going to put up with the misinformation, litigation and bad press that will, at the end of the day, cost us money and our self respect?"

There is considerable concern within the garda rank about a perceived falling behind in the public sector pay round. This dissatisfaction was referred to recently by the Garda Commissioner, Mr Patrick Byrne, as a potential cause of low morale in the force.

The dissatisfaction over pay has been exacerbated by recent controversies concerning the GRA leadership.

The GRA is currently involved in several High Court cases which could cost the association hundreds of thousands of pounds. These include a High Court challenge to the Government's legislation seeking to establish a reconstituted representative association and a libel action against the Independent newspaper group arising from an article written by Veronica Guerin.

The GRA is also itself being sued by former members who claim they were defamed by the association during a disciplinary inquiry three years ago during which they were accused of perjury.

The GRA's finances are understood to have been depleted already this year by court actions and other expenses. Its accumulated fund, which stood at about £2 million three years ago, has fallen to £1,523,711, according to recent figures.

The association is also receiving considerably fewer subscriptions since the defection of the 2,500 members to the Garda Federation.

In the latest in a series of attempts to find a solution to the splits within the Garda representative community, members of the four original dissenting divisions have circulated a discussion paper to other divisions. The paper is understood to seek negotiations and consensus on an approach to new pay discussions.