Garda representatives have strongly criticised the increasing numbers of members being suspended for alleged misconduct.
In sometimes emotional speeches, members of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) told its annual conference that the practice of leaving gardaí suspended for long periods of time during ongoing investigations is having a detrimental impact on members' mental health.
This is particularly the case in the Limerick Division, delegates said, where a number of gardaí have been suspended as part of an investigation into the alleged improper cancellation of penalty points.
GRA members have argued many of those suspended had acted using the recognised garda power of discretion.
A motion proposed by Limerick delegates calling for a full scale review of current protocols on suspensions was passed overwhelmingly bydelegates.
The review should be conducted “with a view to refraining from suspending members where possible and placing a far greater emphasis on the retention of members in the workplace”, the motion stated.
The ongoing lengthy investigation of gardaí in Limerick by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation has caused widespread anger in recent years, particularly since November 2020 when five members were suspended.
GRA members have said Commissioner Drew Harris has refused to reinstate the members despite representations from senior officers and that he has refused to meet GRA president Frank Thornton over the matter.
Mr Thornton, who serves in Limerick told the conference it has been "nothing but horrific" in the Southern Division since last year. "It's just harrowing, day-in, day-out," he said.
Cathal O'Gorman, also from Limerick, said "humanity died within An Garda Síochána with the suspension of our colleagues ."
He said one colleague had returned to work from a long illness just hours before they were suspended. Another two were on sick leave at the time after their Garda car was struck by another vehicle, he said.
‘Not one shred of evidence’
“Absolutely nothing” has happened in the year since, he said. “Not one shred of evidence has been put to these members,” he said. “Colleagues have been stripped of their jobs, stripped of their dignity, left ostracised within An Garda Síochána. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”
Mr O’Gorman said the number of gardaí suspended has almost doubled in three years. “Why is that and what has changed?” he asked.
Mr Harris has made tackling corruption and misconduct a cornerstone of his tenure as commissioner. There are currently more than 80 gardaí suspended across the country.
“Our mental health matters, our welfare matters. Our dignity and our integrity matters,” Mr O’Gorman said.
In an emotional address, another Limerick Garda, Brian O’Dwyer, said the suspended members were not just colleagues but friends. “They’re hurting, they’re hurting bad.”
The conference also heard concerns about a lack of training for new gardaí and the rise in assaults on members.
Assaults on Gardaí in the five years up to 2020 rose by more than 50 per cent, delegates were told. Mr Thornton said he intends to raise this matter with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.
“I have said many times previously that there is never an excuse for violent acts against gardaí, regardless of the situation presenting or unknowns that members have to respond to.”
Ms McEntee is due to address the conference remotely on Tuesday afternoon, as is Deputy Garda Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon.