Political support for Garda group urging Yes vote on marriage equality

Former police ombudsman in North Nuala O’Loan criticises GRA for taking stnce

 Former Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan:  “The guards need to be building confidence, not losing it. It is not the function of police officers who are sworn to uphold the law, to challenge the law and call for people to change the law in this way.”  Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Former Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan: “The guards need to be building confidence, not losing it. It is not the function of police officers who are sworn to uphold the law, to challenge the law and call for people to change the law in this way.” Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

The right of the body representing rank-and-file gardaí to recommend a Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum has been defended by both the Minister for Health and the leader of Fianna Fáil.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said there was a distinction between the Garda Representative Association (GRA) urging its members to vote in favour of the proposal and the Garda force taking such a stance.

It would be “entirely inappropriate for a body like An Garda Síochána itself” to take sides in the referendum, but he said the GRA was “a representative body and is more like a trade union”.

Questions put by The Irish Times to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan on whether they supported the GRA’s right to speak out had not been answered last night. The commissioner two weeks ago expressed her reservations about a Garda member in uniform appearing at a photocall event encouraging people to register to vote.

The event was organised by campaigners for a Yes vote.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he disagreed with views expressed by the former police ombudsman in Northern Ireland, Nuala O’Loan, who criticised the GRA for urging its members to vote Yes.

“The GRA is an association and [its general secretary] PJ Stone and others have had many views about different things and I think they are entitled to have a view on this,” Mr Martin said.

Ms O’Loan, who indicated she would vote against the referendum proposal if she had a vote in the Republic, said she believed it was imperative that any police force stay out of politics. “These guards swear an oath that they will discharge faithfully the duties of a member of An Garda Síochána with fairness, integrity, regard for human rights, diligence, impartiality, upholding the Constitution and the laws.

“The guards need to be building confidence, not losing it. It is not the function of police officers who are sworn to uphold the law, to challenge the law and call for people to change the law in this way.”

Mr Stone encouraged a Yes vote in an editorial in the April edition of the GRA’s Garda Review magazine.

Gráinne Healy, a spokeswoman for Yes Equality, the main group campaigning for a Yes vote, praised the magazine article. “The Garda Review editorial was a thoughtful, sensitive exposition of the issues involved, in the context of the work carried out and the communities served by the members of the GRA.”

The editorial represented the first time the GRA, which represents more than 10,000 rank-and-file gardaí in the 12,800-strong force, has recommended how its members should vote in any referendum or ballot.

Mr Stone said his association stood over its remarks and saw no issue with expressing a preference for one side of the debate. “The GRA don’t see this as a political issue,” he said. “We see it as a moral issue and we believe all of our members should have equality under the law as every other citizen should have equality the law.”

The Garda Review editorial stated: “The marriage equality referendum is the first time for this association to recommend a stance on elections or referenda, but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to recommend equality of our members as constitutional reform. It’s a ‘Yes’ to equality.”