Review of garda participation in referendum photocall

Campaign group say Garda station photo-call was to encourage voter registration

Retired Supreme Court justice  Catherine McGuinness with community garda Kerrie Sullivan at Pearse Street station, Dublin. Photograph: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

Retired Supreme Court justice Catherine McGuinness with community garda Kerrie Sullivan at Pearse Street station, Dublin. Photograph: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

 

Gardaí are investigating the circumstances in which a member of the force participated in a photocall organised by the Yes Equality campaign. A uniformed member and a retired judge, Catherine McGuinness, were both photographed with an enlarged voter registration form outside Pearse Street garda station yesterday.

When asked if the invesigation had arisen from a complaint, a Garda press office spokesman said “the matter is being looked into.”

The voter registration campaign is being run by Yes Equality. It is encouraging people to register by May 5th to be certain that they can vote in the marriage equality referendum on May 22nd.

Mothers and Fathers Matter campaign spokesman Keith Mills described the presence of a uniformed garda at a yes campaign event as a “sinister development” and a blatant attempt to politicise the gardaí.

Mr Mills, who advocates a no vote, said: “We have not had the politicising of the gardaí since the foundation of the State and we shouldn’t have it now just because there is a political consensus among the elite in Ireland about this issue.”

He called on Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to investigate how the photocall came about. “I am deeply concerned about this. The Minister needs to say something about this. We need to know if this is the actions of an individual guard or something more, and if disciplinary action needs to be taken.”

There was no response from Ms Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman yesterday evening.

Apolitical The Garda Síochána is an apolitical organisation. Its members are not allowed to campaign on any political issue or be members of a political party. In 2006 the Garda Representative Association (GRA) was forced to back down when it said it would encourage colleagues, friends and relatives to vote for non-government parties.

The threat was part of a row with the then minister for justice Michael McDowell over the creation of the garda reserve. Mr McDowell reminded them that they had taken an oath to be apolitical, and the issue caused a rift between garda commissioner Noel Conroy and the leadership of the GRA.

Yes Equality denied that yesterday’s photocall was politicising the gardaí. Spokesman Tiernan Brady said the point of the photoshoot was to highlight that people can still register to vote by filling in a form at their nearest garda station by May 5th. A previous voter registration drive by Yes Equality led to 40,000 new voters registering in October.

Mr Brady described it as a “civic duty question”. “We get a sense from the previous registration campaign that people want to have their voices heard, but to have their voices heard they have to register,” he said.

“This campaign is very clearly just about registering. There will be other days when we can get out and publicise the yes vote.”