Garda involvement in Yes campaign event ‘not appropriate’
Registration event involving gardaí called off after backlash from No campaigners
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan says the garda involved in Yes campaign photocall ‘acted in good faith’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Groups campaigning for a No vote in the same-sex marriage referendum have called on Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to make a comprehensive statement on how uniformed members of the force were involved in “Yes Equality” campaign events.
Ms O’Sullivan described the appearance of a uniformed garda at a Yes Equality photocall as “not appropriate” but she stated that the garda involved had been acting in good faith.
Keith Mills, the founder of Mothers and Fathers Matter, and who is campaigning for a No vote, described the response as “anodyne”.
Mr Mills said the photocall on Sunday was not an isolated incident as uniformed gardaí had also been at a Yes campaign voter registration event at University College Cork.
“The gardaí have no statutory role in increasing franchise or voter turnout and consequently their use or participation in campaign events is blatant politicising and deeply disturbing,” Mr Mills said.
“Anyone with the merest concern for democratic process has to be disturbed by this fracture of tradition and custom that has kept the gardaí as a strictly neutral and apolitical force.”
Independent TD Mattie McGrath accused Yes Equality of being “completely disingenuous” in stating that the gardaí were just involved in a voter registration drive. “It is inconceivable that the thought did not cross their mind that this was an abuse of the position of the gardaí,” he said.
He said if gardaí in uniform had appeared at a No voter registration event there would be a “massive backlash from the Yes campaign”.
Independent Senator Rónán Mullen called on Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and the Garda Commissioner to clarify the role played by the gardaí involved and to make a statement reassuring the public this will not happen again.
Ms O’Sullivan said the circumstances surrounding both incidents were being examined. “The purpose of gardaí engaging in this is to be sure that people know that people have to register to be able to vote,” she said.
“Members of An Garda Síochána are apolitical and are not supporting either side in this particular referendum or in any campaign.”
When asked if disciplinary action will be taken against the gardaí involved, she said: “It is something that we are looking at at the moment.”
Students at Dundalk Institute of Technology, who had hoped to register to vote in the forthcoming referendums, were unable to do so yesterday.
Brian Fitzpatrick, president of Dundalk IT students’ union, said that the registration event had been arranged via LGBT organisation Dundalk Outcomers. A Garda presence on campus to register new voters on Monday before the May 5th deadline had been arranged.
No gardaí attended the event, which was to take place for the first four days of this week, Mr Fitzpatrick said.
“Now we have to tell students to go to their local Garda station. Luckily 50 per cent of our students are local.”
No one from Dundalk Garda station was able to comment.