Finian McGrath urged to resign over ‘political policing’ comments

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

Minister of State Finian McGrath (left) claimed gardaí were making negative comments about  Minister for Transport Shane Ross (right). Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Minister of State Finian McGrath (left) claimed gardaí were making negative comments about Minister for Transport Shane Ross (right). Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Minister of State Finian McGrath has been called on to resign over comments he made - and subsequently withdrew - about ‘political policing’ .

“It is disgraceful what he said. It was shocking. Withdrawing his statement is not enough, he should resign,” road safety campaigner Aisling Reid of PARC she told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

On Sunday, the Independent Alliance minister had claimed gardaí are carrying out “over the top” drink-driving checks because they oppose new road safety laws.

In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, he said he had gotten complaints from parents about being breathalysed on the way to Mass and to pick up their children from school.

Gardaí had become politicised and were “making a point” by blaming Minister for Transport Shane Ross when they stopped motorists.

Mr McGrath said that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin TDs had told him they had heard reports of this.

He also told the Sunday Independent he wanted Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to “de-politicise” An Garda Síochána.

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 Mr Harris to address the issue publicly.

Clarified

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.”

Ms Reid said that the new drink driving laws were important and necessary to address the issue of drink driving. “The police are doing their job. Their role is to ensure that no one is drink driving.”

On the same radio programme, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan described Mr McGrath’s comments as “foolish” and he called on him to apologise to the Garda.

“It is extremely serious to say that the guards are involved in a political campaign. What he should be talking about is his own portfolio.

“Finian is looking for publicity. He is seeking to explain the unpopularity of Independent Alliance ministers.”

Sensitivity

Former Garda chief superintendent John O’Brien said he can understand public scepticism about Garda checkpoints for drink driving because of past issues with inflated figures, but he said check points are important.

He said that enforcement needs to be done with a degree of sensitivity and that everything has to be done to improve road safety.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton defended Mr McGrath.

“He is a very passionate person. I do have full confidence in him. He has a particular way of working,” Mr Bruton told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

“He was man enough to admit that he was wrong and to express confidence in the Garda and that he was wrong to say this.

“What he said requires an apology. All of us in our game could make a slip then have to come along and withdraw.”

The Garda Representative Association welcomed Mr Grath’s withdrawal of his comments.

“Our members take their political independence very seriously and regard it as a key reason gardai command such a high level of public support,” it said in a statement.

“For clarification, gardaí carry out Mandatory Intoxication Test checkpoints (MITs) under management instruction in accordance with the Road Traffic Act and do not set up MIT checkpoints under their own recognizance.

“The GRA welcomes Minister McGrath’s acknowledgement that his charges have no basis and will not be commenting further on this matter at this time.”