Finian McGrath withdraws ‘political policing’ comments

Minister of State made remarks on enforcement methods of new drink driving laws

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath said ‘a police force - like teachers, nurses - guards should always be non-political’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath said ‘a police force - like teachers, nurses - guards should always be non-political’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

 

Minister of State Finian McGrath has withdrawn comments he made about ‘political policing’ just hours after he defended them and called for the Garda Commissioner to address the issue.

Mr McGrath first made the comments, in relation to the enforcement of new drink-driving laws, in an interview with a Sunday newspaper.

On Sunday afternoon, he told The Irish Times that he had been approached by members of the public with concerns over how the new laws were being enforced, and called on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to address the issue publicly.

He said he had been told of “unnecessary checkpoints going up, people making comments about the Minister for Transport – these need to be clarified”.

“What I’m trying to say is I think the whole situation needs to be clarified by the Garda Commissioner, and I’m sure he’ll do that,” he said.

However, in a statement emailed later on Sunday afternoon, he said that his comments in the Sunday Independent “were wrong and I am happy to withdraw my comments”.

“I am also happy to state that I have full confidence in An Garda Síochána and that I was wrong to suggest there was any element of politicising within the force over the new drink driving regulations.”

“Nobody is more supportive of the work An Garda Síochána does – often in tough circumstance – than I am. My comments in this morning’s Sunday Independent were prompted by concerns raised with me over the past number of weeks.”

Independent Alliance response

In a separate statement, the Independent Alliance welcomed the withdrawal. “While every member of the Independent Alliance is entitled to voice their views, it is only right that Minister McGrath withdrew those remarks,” he said.

Mr McGrath did not respond to calls or texts after his statement was distributed. His comments had drawn a swift rebuke from Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who tweeted on Sunday morning that the comments were “bewildering and bizarre” and “unwise even dangerous”.

In a statement later, Mr Flanagan said that he “fundamentally disagee[s] with Finian McGrath that there’s a climate of what he calls ‘political policing’. That would be wrong and will not exist under my watch. Gardaí work hard to implement the law. They’ve a difficult job.”

Speaking prior to the withdrawal of his comments, Mr McGrath responded to Mr Flanagan by saying: “I’m an independent member of government, not a Fine Gael member. I’m entitled to my independent view and what’s wrong with that? Am I not allowed speak out and ask questions if concerns are brought to me? I’d ask that question to Minister Flanagan,” he said.

“I’ll ask hard questions in government even if it’s uncomfortable,” he added

It is not the first time a minister has publicly commented on the enforcement of the new rules.

Minister of State for Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Digital Development Seán Canney said in January that “Joe Public is feeling persecuted. The ordinary person going to work is being pulled in. It is a challenge getting to work with the traffic as it is without having garda check points”.

Mr Canney was responding to an Irish Times story which detailed Ministers concerns about the enforcement practices, with one saying they were “over the top” and akin to a “police state”. A second Minister said that the gardaí were being “provocative” and “over-zealous” in enforcement.

The changes to the Road Traffic Act mean that drivers found to have between 50 and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood are automatically banned from driving for three months and receive a €200 fine.

Previously, drivers who tested positive for that amount received three penalty points.