Garda forum hears of Limerick officer facing blue-light sanction

Garda Representative Association also concerned about ‘downward trend’ of recruitment

A Limerick-based garda is facing disciplinary action, including possible dismissal, for activating his blue lights when a stolen car drove past, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said.

The incident was cited by the association’s leadership at its annual conference as an example of the bureaucracy to which, it says, gardaí are subjected. It also highlights the lack of fully qualified Garda drivers to respond to emergencies, it said.

The garda was at a junction when he saw a car he knew to be stolen driving in the other direction. He activated his lights to alert the public to the danger and turned his car around to see where the stolen car was going, said GRA president Frank Thornton. The garda did not give chase.

As he was only qualified to competency based driving (CBD) level one, he is facing a board of inquiry for his actions. Only gardaí qualified as CBD level two drivers can use the emergency lights and sirens. The board has the power to recommended various penalties, including dismissal.

“This is the sad side of it. This member was acting proactively and making sure of public safety,” said Mr Thornton.

GRA vice-president Brendan O’Connor said if a garda finds themselves driving behind a drunk driver swerving across the road, they are not allowed turn on their blue light to signal them to pull over. “That’s the reality of what our members are dealing with,” he said.

Mr O’Connor believes criminals are aware that many gardaí are unable to pursue them, including low-level offenders such as those driving without insurance or tax.

The GRA has also raised concerns about recruitment, which it said is on a "downward trend". Mr Thornton said just 25 recruits have started training in Templemore so far this year while about 400 officers are expected to retire.

Force of 15,000

Even if the force manage to induct 300 additional officers this year, it will still not be enough to replace retiring members, he said. The Government has previously committed to a force 15,000 strong.

Mr O’Connor said the organisation needs to decide what is the specific “optimum number” for Garda strength to effectively police the country.

The conference, which is taking place in Westport, Co Mayo, runs until Wednesday.

Delegates are also scheduled to debate whether frontline gardaí should be issued with Tasers for protection. Gardaí “urgently require” the weapons to prevent assaults if members are going to continue to be required to patrol alone, said Mr Thornton.

“Society has changed and we have to adapt to that too,” he added. “Twenty or 30 years ago we were in a completely different space and we have to evolve. The safety of our members is of paramount importance.”