Dispute in Garda staff association on interpretation of public health measures

Members and leaders of body disagree on cancellation of executive committee meeting

A significant dispute has broken out within the largest Garda staff association about how to interpret the Covid-19 public health measures.

Some members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) believe a two-day meeting of its central executive committee (CEC) in a Galway city hotel was permitted under the rules while the leadership of the association has insisted it would breach Covid-19 restrictions and has cancelled it.

News that members of the GRA were in dispute about what the Covid-19 restrictions allow or prohibit will cause concern that even Garda members were confused about the measures. The GRA is the largest staff body in the force and represents almost 12,000 rank and file gardaí in a total Garda force of about 14,500.

GRA president Jim Mulligan on Monday wrote to members of the CEC informing them the two-day meeting in a Galway City hotel was cancelled.


One member of the executive was so annoyed about the decision he believed the positions of the six-man officer board at the top of the GRA were “untenable”. However, Mr Mulligan was clear in his correspondence that the meeting could not proceed.

“There is no official source from which we can get a definitive written position in a timely manner,” Mr Mulligan said of the Covid-19 restrictions in correspondence sent to the CEC members on Monday.


However, he said Department of Health had now told the GRA the Covid-19 restrictions "do not allow for the holding of a meeting of 34 people in person".

Mr Mulligan also cited Paul Gallagher of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) who told RTÉ broadcaster Claire Byrne there was "only an allowance" for more than six people indoors for weddings under the new restrictions. He added a meeting of the CEC would still take place, but would be conducted remotely.

However, almost all of the 17 replies he received, with some CEC members replying more than once, insisted the meeting should go ahead. Most argued the meeting was work-related and would not breach the Covid-19 restrictions and/or questioned how the decision to cancel had been reached.

One said described the cancellation as “mind-blowing” and “flawed”. Others said they disagreed with the decision and felt they should have been consulted. Another asked Mr Mulligan to “quote your authority” for the decision and asked he “supply the relevant Covid-19 legal legislation that you are basing your decision on”.

One correspondent said he had listened to the same interview with Mr Gallagher from the IHF and believed Mr Gallagher's comments meant the CEC meeting would be permitted as it was "pre-booked and it is a non-social and non tourist meeting and as such essential".

Another correspondent and CEC member said the planned, now cancelled, two-day meeting in Galway was “not an event, it is work and we are entitled to attend work events”. He added he had been on Garda search operations that involved socially distanced briefings in advance, which complied with the Covid-19 measures.


In reply to queries Mr Mulligan told The Irish Times the two-day meeting in the Galway hotel was cancelled because the Department of Health had told the GRA it “would not be in compliance with the guidelines on gatherings”.

He added “everyone in the country was confused” by the revised restrictions issued last week. While some of the rules were for hotels, there was even confusion in that sector.

“It is disgraceful for (GRA) staff and representatives to be told their position is untenable because they did the right thing by everyone in the country including our members,” he said.

“It would be unforgiveable to have disrespected the many people – including our own members – who make great, and at times, heart-wrenching sacrifices to protect themselves, their loved ones and the whole country.”

Attendees were due to gather on Tuesday night at the Connacht Hotel, Galway City, ahead of the meeting that had been set for Wednesday and Thursday. A total of 34 GRA personnel were due to attend; the three-man secretariat and 31 CEC members who represent the Garda divisions across the country.

The GRA was set to enter talks, which include senior Garda management, next month on rosters and other working arrangements. The association’s approach to those talks, among other matters, was due to be discussed at the Galway meeting.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times