A challenge to authority

 

A DANGEROUS situation has developed because Garda Representative Association general secretary PJ Stone and his executive appear determined to transform the association into a trade union. If the withdrawal of labour is formally recognised as legitimate action, who will uphold the law and protect citizens? In promoting this agenda, Mr Stone has ignored the findings of the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in Co Donegal and challenged the authority of both the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

All Garda recruits make a solemn declaration to discharge their duties with fairness, integrity and impartiality and to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. Those laws are quite specific concerning themselves. They cannot engage in strike action or withdraw their labour. It is a fundamental requirement. If some members now feel they cannot uphold that oath, they have the option to resign. Flouting the law in order to protest against Government decisions is not acceptable.

Members of the Garda Síochána have served this State well. Born out of the civil war, their oath of allegiance requires members not to join a political party. That ban on direct political involvement has been of tremendous importance in making the force universally acceptable. A blurring of that boundary at this time, through deliberate GRA strategy, is an unfortunate development. Gardaí do a difficult and often dangerous job. They have never been ordinary State employees. Entrusted with special powers and obligations, they enjoy a high level of status and public confidence.

Their anger over Government mismanagement of the economy and cuts in pay is understandable. Nobody appreciates worsening conditions. But the manner in which this anger has been shaped and directed by the GRA in its ambition to become a trade union is disturbing. The conference theme: “angry, betrayed and disillusioned” set the tone. Then, outgoing president Michael O’Boyce accused Fianna Fáil and the Government of being corrupt and “bought” by bankers and speculators. It was all carefully orchestrated. A copy of the speech was circulated to the Minister in advance and it appears that when Mr Ahern objected to the political nature of the content and indicated this could prevent his attendance, his representations were ignored. The document was released to the media and Mr Stone subsequently contrived a standing ovation for Mr O’Boyce and his undelivered speech.

If gardaí should not play politics with these issues, neither should politicians. A decision by Fine Gael’s spokesman on justice Charlie Flanagan to criticise the Minister’s withdrawal from the conference as “childish” and to imply approval for the GRA was an appalling misjudgment. Four years ago, Mr Stone declared: “we don’t want to become involved in politics…it simply would not be right”. It still isn’t. Similarly, the Morris tribunal warned that treating the GRA as a trade union would undermine Garda discipline and was likely to lead to disaster. Mr Stone should think again.