Detective loses case against compulsory retirement

 

THE STATE'S longest-serving detective has lost his High Court case aimed at overturning the compulsory retirement age of 60 for assistant commissioners in the Garda.

Former assistant commissioner Martin Donnellan (60), who was awarded a Scott Medal for bravery during his career, had claimed the law requiring him to retire at 60 is ageist, irrational and contrary to changes in life expectancy. He turned 60 last month and was officially retired from then.

His challenge was to a government regulation (statutory instrument) in 1996 which altered the retirement age for assistant commissioners from 65 to 60.

In opposing the case, the State argued the lower retirement age was necessary to ensure talented younger people could move through the Garda ranks. It also claimed that restoring the age to 65 would create a blockage at senior level.

In his reserved judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie dismissed Mr Donnellan's claims.

While there had been new equality legislation and EU directives since the 1996 change, he could not retrospectively apply a theoretical test as to the validity of that change.

He was satisfied the 1996 regulation was introduced as part of a policy aimed at motivating the force, freeing up positions in higher ranks for individuals whose ambition was to progress through the Garda and allowing senior management to promote particularly talented people earlier than previously might have been expected.

The judge said there were 15 positions at the rank of commissioner/ deputy commissioner/assistant commissioner level, representing 1.5 per cent of the force in what is a pyramid structure, and this had to have a major bearing on whether discrimination under age grounds could be justified under the relevant EU directive. The judge said the aim of the 1996 change was to provide for a more efficient and effective police force, and the government of the day was entitled to make that change. It was not the function of the court to encroach on policy of the government in this respect or to encroach on the management of the Garda.

The question to be considered by the court was whether there was justification for the policy, he said. If the change had not been introduced, there would have been just one retirement at this level in the past five years but, as a result of the change, there were 10 retirements. Over the next four years, there would have been fewer than the expected seven retirements had the age of 65 been in force.

It could be deduced from those figures that some benefit had been derived from the change, although that benefit had not entirely worked its way through the system at this stage, the judge said.

While there was no dispute that Mr Donnellan would be a loss to the force, that applied in many areas of life, Mr Justice McKechnie added.

Mr Donnellan had had another option, under other rules within the force, to apply to have his tenure extended by another three years, the judge also noted. Mr Donnellan had applied for that extension of tenure last February but was rejected by the Garda Commissioner. That additional option was an important factor as to whether the change in retirement age was proportionate and reasonable, the judge said.

He further noted that retirement would not place a financial penalty on Mr Donnellan, who will receive a gratuity of more than €200,000 along with an index-linked pension of €70,000 per annum. His decision only applies to the rank of assistant commissioner and not to any other rank of the Garda, he stressed.

After delivering judgment, Mr Justice McKechnie adjourned the question of costs to next Thursday. Afterwards, Mr Donnellan said he was disappointed with the decision.