Mid-ranking gardaí are angry and say public is on their side
Delegates at AGSI conference in Kerry view Fitzgerald’s absence as disrespectful
AGSI members stand for a minute’s silence in tribute to the crew of Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 at their conference in Killarney on Monday. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
The annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has begun against a backdrop of crisis.
Delegates at the Brehon Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry are angry that Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald could not find time in her busy schedule to address the conference.
Her absence is being interpreted by many of those in attendance as disrespect.
The recent crises of inflated breath tests and wrongful road traffic convictions is a major topic of conversation.
Nobody seems sure how the number of alcohol breath tests conducted between 2012 and 2016 was recorded as two million when only half that number were actually carried out.
Unusually, a number of delegates declined to be interviewed, even off the record.
“I think different things were going on in different places,” says one sergeant, willing to speak only on condition of anonymity. “In some cases, maybe younger members didn’t want to report back that they had only done a handful of tests. So they said they did 10, thinking they were doing no harm.”
Another delegate said they believed some Garda members were counting every vehicle that passed through a checkpoint as a test. “Or every motorist that was stopped and chatted to to see if there was a smell of alcohol off them was counted as a test, even when they were not tested.”
Another delegate said some gardaí had a very casual attitude towards the breath test figures because they never thought they would count for anything. “People just didn’t think it was important to be accurate. And they probably felt pressure to come back with bigger numbers than the level they actually carried out.”
Sgt Rory Brennan from Westport Garda said he believed the sergeants and inspectors he represented were feeling pressure from the controversies.
“We turn up and do the job as best we can and I think people appreciate that,” he said. “I think people are wondering what’s going on at management level in our job. The mood . . . is on the floor because every day they open their paper and there is a scandal.”
When asked if gardaí on the frontline felt in crisis or under siege, another delegates said his colleagues were embarrassed over the inflating of the breath tests.
“In all honesty, the public are sympathising with us. The comment I have had made to me more times is about pity for us that we have the senior management we have.”
Another delegate agrees: “People see this as poor leadership. They seem to feel that changes are needed at the top.”
Asked whether people in the force believed the next Garda commissioner would be hired from outside the force, another delegate said it was unclear.
“I think a lot of members probably feel a change would be no harm,” he said, adding a senior police officer from abroad would be more suitable than an Irish civilian.
However, the same inspector believed Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was being treated unfairly.
“It seems to be open season on her at the moment, for whatever reason. And I don’t think it’s fair. The problems in the Garda started long before Nóirín O’Sullivan was appointed.”
Another says that after Martin Callinan retired in 2014, the time had come to go outside the force to fill the vacancy.
“The Government bottled it,” he said. “Going outside [the Garda] would have been unpopular. But there were problems, and promoting the next person in line was the opposite of what was needed.
“What other organisation would never go outside to hire people? They need to open the organisation up. We’d be all the better for it.”