Senior garda challenges compulsory retirement age of 60

 

A GARDA assistant commissioner who is challenging provisions requiring his compulsory retirement at the age of 60 told the High Court yesterday he wants to continue working because he believes he has a lot more to give to the force.

Assistant Commissioner Martin Donnellan, the longest-serving detective in the country, who turns 60 on June 7th, claims the law requiring him to retire at 60 is ageist, irrational and contrary to changes in life expectancy among the general population in the last decade or so.

He has brought his case against the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda Commissioner and the State, seeking to have a 1996 Statutory Instrument, which changed the compulsory retirement age for assistant commissioners from 65 to 60, struck down.

The State argues the earlier retirement age is required to ensure there is no blockage in the promotion structure for senior gardaí and that this is the best way of attracting the best people into the force. There are 166 chief superintendents in the force and only 12 assistant commissioner positions, along with two deputy commissioners, the High Court heard.

Mr Donnellan told the court yesterday he wanted to continue working because he had done the job out of a sense of vocation and felt he had a lot more to offer. His job was about service to the public and he wanted to continue the work he had been doing, including the setting up of an organised crime unit and improving departments such as the national immigration bureau, which he said he built up into a modern system.

He was not taking the legal challenge for money because, under his retirement package due to come into force on his 60th birthday, he would get a €200,000 gratuity and half his pay. It made no sense to retire people with a great deal of experience to offer to the force and he did not believe the law was in line with equality legislation and EU law. "I am doing this for job satisfaction and I believe I have a lot to offer," he said.

He believed the argument that the lower age provides more promotional opportunities was flawed and the 1996 change had come in without consulting the people who would be affected. He was "extremely disappointed" the matter had not been dealt with before this despite efforts by associations representing senior gardaí to have the age increased by three years.

The court heard he decided to take the challenge after the Garda Commissioner turned down his application to extend his employment by three years and because a separate application to the Equality Authority, claiming age discrimination, would not be determined before he was due to retire.

Mr Donnellan first became a detective in 1978 and held every rank before being appointed AC in 2005. He won a silver Scott Medal for bravery for his role in tackling armed raiders during a robbery in Stillorgan in 1988.

Since 2007, he has been in charge of eight Garda sections including the national drugs unit, fraud bureau, Cab, technical section and the Garda Reserve.

Opening Mr Donnellan's case, James Connolly SC said the argument against compulsory retirement centres on the legality of the 1996 change which, even if it was justified then, was not justifiable today in terms of changes that have occurred in relation to how the Garda operates and because of changes to laws since then.

The case resumes next Tuesday.