The Garda Commissioner’s “vague” comments that gardaí could at times exercise “discretion” not to enforce laws against people as long as they were not showing “preference” to certain people has led to “confusion” among members, a representative body has said.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA), which advocates for rank-and-file gardaí, said the remarks had introduced a new concept into policing in the Republic. It now wanted an urgent meeting with Mr Harris to get clarity for its members.
The GRA believed the distinction now being made by Mr Harris between “discretion” and “preference” was “a new departure” from the Garda’s current guidelines and advice.
“The introduction of the phrase ‘preference’ in policing is unclear and wholly unacceptable and our members need immediate clarity on the commissioner’s comments and his clear definition of the term ‘preference’ in relation to the use of garda discretion,” the GRA said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
The association has sought a meeting with Mr Harris after he addressed the Clare Joint Policing Committee in Ennis on Monday where he remarked on "discretion" and "preference".
Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe has been critical of an investigation into Garda members for alleged malpractice, up to the point of alleged criminality, in the Munster area. He said the gardaí and their families were suffering a "harrowing" experience because of the investigation.
He told the meeting that gardaí had “for many years” been able to “square off a charge for a road traffic offence” but that practice “seems to be gone now” and asked Mr Harris about the apparent demise of the practice.
Mr Harris replied by saying discretion was still open to gardaí but they needed to be sure it was discretion they were exercising rather than “preference”, meaning offering leniency to selected people specifically based on who they were.
"The difficulty is the difference between discretion and preference," Mr Harris said. "I would say to every member of An Garda Síochána that properly exercising discretion is available to you, but make sure it is not preference. Preference is unfair – everyone must be treated equally before the law."