Garda body slam no-show by Frances Fitzgerald at time of 'crisis' in the force

Mid-ranking gardaí have launched a scathing attack on Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald over her failure to attend their annual conference at a time of “crisis” in the force — and are set to have a cut at the Garda commissioner when she arrives later today, Cormac O'Keeffe, Elaine Loughlin and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said it fears that the “finger of blame” is pointing down at frontline supervisors like them and rank-and-file gardaí, with one association leader saying he did not think the blame will rest with them once investigations conclude.

AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham is set to spell out to commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, who will address their annual conference in Killarney, how her members feel about comments she made at an Oireachtas Justice Committee at the end of last month.

Regarding the one million phantom breath tests, the commissioner said: “At worst, this was deception. At best, this was incompetence.”

The commissioner is still battling ongoing heaves from within the Oireachtas, set to continue tonight with a Fianna Fáil motion requesting the Government to order the Policing Authority to essentially determine the garda chief’s future.

The pressure will continue tomorrow with a Sinn Féin motion expressing no confidence in the commissioner.

But the immediate focus of ire from the AGSI leadership was the late decision by Ms Fitzgerald not to give the traditional address of the sitting justice minister at their conference.

Ms Fitzgerald said she could not attend due to “pressure of Dáil business”, particularly in relation to garda matters.

Speaking at the conference, Ms Cunningham said that public confidence in the organisation was “on the floor and the organisation is in crisis”.

She said it was “extremely disappointing” that the person with overall responsibility for law and order could not attend the conference and tell members how she was going to “steer us through this crisis”.

The AGSI president said members felt “let down by Government”.

She said that given the Dáil was not sitting yesterday, she wasn’t sure it was “reasonable” for the minister not to attend.

Ms Cunningham said: “Nothing should be more important to the minister for justice at this particular time that how the Garda organisation is run, managed and what’s happening operationally.

“I think it would have been an excellent opportunity for her to listen to the voice of people who are involved in frontline policing.”

AGSI general secretary John Jacob said there was a sense that people were “blaming” them for the controversies.

On the breath test and wrongful conviction scandals, he said: “Right now, there are a number of investigations ongoing and I suspect that when those are concluded, they will deliver results and until they’re delivered, I’d like to reserve my judgement on who is to blame for this.

“But as a representative of AGSI members I don’t believe the blame will rest with us. I believe it’s a problem with processes, a problem with training. I think these matters will be driven out as part of those investigations.”

He said members were concerned they were being blamed: “There is a fear that the finger will be pointed at them and as our president has already said, the finger of blame is pointing downwards without having the evidence and that can’t be correct.”

He said he didn’t think people were right to lose confidence in frontline staff as they were the ones “holding the fort”.

He said that if the investigations put some of the blame on his members, “we will come out and we’ll admit it” and look at where it went wrong and try and resolve it.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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