EU court: Workplace Relations Commission has legal power to rule on garda age limit

The garda college in Templemore

The EU’s top court has ruled that the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has legal powers to make a finding that Irish legislation on a maximum age limit for new gardaí may not be compatible with EU law.

The judgement by the Court of Justice of the European Union leaves the way open for the WRC to hear a complaint by three men who sought to challenge the imposition of a maximum age limit for trainee gardaí.

A row over which the State body had the jurisdiction to adjudicate on the legal challenge by the three men had been referred to the Luxembourg-based court by the Supreme Court.

The three men — Ronald Boyle, Gerald Cotter, and Brian Fitzpatrick — claimed that they were discriminated against due to the maximum age limit of 35 years for new garda entrants.

They submitted an appeal against the decision by An Garda Síochána on dates between 2004 and 2007 not to consider their applications to join the force to the Equality Tribunal, which subsequently became the WRC.

However, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan intervened in the case and took a legal challenge against the Equality Tribunal ruling on the complaint on the basis that only the courts had jurisdiction to set aside a provision of national legislation under the Irish constitution.

The Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner also argued the rules on age for Garda entry were consistent with both the Equality Act and the EU Equal Treatment Directive.

In 2009, the High Court ruled that the Equality Tribunal had no power to decide if the 35-year age limit was discriminatory.

It found that only the courts could make a declaration that the Garda age limit was in conflict with EU legislation.

While the Supreme Court upheld that ruling in an appeal taken by the Equality Tribunal, it also decided to seek direction on the issue from the Court of Justice of the European Union .

Yesterday, the court said the primacy of EU law meant all State bodies were obliged to adopt all measures necessary to ensure that EU law was fully effective.

It said the ruling meant a body like the WRC had the power to disapply any provision of a national law that was contrary to EU legislation in a specific case but did not have powers to strike down the provision generally.

The court said there was a duty on all State organs not just national courts to make findings where national legislation was contrary to EU law.

The court said it was clear that the WRC had been given specific powers to examine claims of discrimination in contravention of the Equality Acts.

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