Garda sergeants and inspectors feel ‘abandoned’ by Government
AGSI does not believe its members will be blamed for alcohol breath test debacle
Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors stood for a minute’s silence in tribute to the crew lost on the Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 116 helicopter. Photograph: Don MacMonagle.
Security and Crime Editor Garda sergeants and inspectors feel abandoned by Government at a time when a crisis is gripping the force, their representative body has said.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said it was “extremely disappointed” that Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald could not find time in her schedule to address its annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry and that her absence was a worrying reflection on where her priorities lay.
AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham opened the group’s conference on Monday night with an address to the absent Ms Fitzgerald.
“It is very regrettable that you are not here to inform us of what you are doing to steer us through this crisis,” Ms Cunningham said in reference to the inflated alcohol breath test debacle and the near 15,000 wrongful convictions for road traffic breaches.
“Nothing should be more important to the Minister for Justice at this particular time than how the Garda organisation is run, managed and what’s happening operationally.”
A spokesman for Ms Fitzgerald said she regretted not being in a position to attend but had pressing Garda-related matters to tend to in the Dáil.
A Fianna Fáil motion seeking a review of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s ability to do her job is before the Dáil on Tuesday. A Sinn Féin motion of confidence in the commissioner is set for Wednesday. The AGSI said Ms Fitzgerald also had questions to answer on the issue of resourcing the force.
Ms Cunningham said a major 2013 report by the Garda Inspectorate highlighted shortfalls in front-line supervision – which should be provided by sergeants and inspectors – but “nothing much has changed”.
However, successive Garda commissioners had said publicly that the force had enough resources, she said.
Ms Cunningham said the AGSI could not explain how the number of alcohol breath tests carried out had been inflated by 100 per cent. An internal Garda investigation and a review under the auspices of the Policing Authority would run their course and would hopefully provide the answers, she said.
AGSI general secretary John Jacob believed when the truth about the breath tests emerged his members would not be found to be to blame.
“Our members are concerned, and that’s understandable because there is a fear that the finger will be pointed at them,” he said.
“The finger of blame is pointing downwards without having the evidence and that can’t be correct. I don’t believe the blame will rest with us. I believe it’s a problem with processes, a problem with training. I think these matters will be driven out as part of that investigation.”
Mr Jacob also questioned the appropriateness of an external review of the Garda, such as that ordered by the Government. The Garda Inspectorate had already compiled several major reports and if they had been implemented, the force may not now be in the “pickle” it found itself in, he said.