Comment: Gardaí unhappy as spotlight turned on representative body

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan

Civilianisation. Training. Repossessions. Staffing. Investment.

These are the issues that should be dominating the agenda at the three-day annual conference of frontline garda supervisors in Co Cavan, which started yesterday.

And Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan should be on the receiving end of the ire of middle-ranking officers.

Given that today will be the commissioner’s first address to a Garda staff conference since he was appointed last September, that should be, in normal circumstances, the focus of both delegates and the media.

Putting the commissioner and the minister under the spotlight should be the officers and representatives of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).

But this time, it is the association that is under the spotlight and senior officials are most definitely not enjoying the experience.

Allegations erupted just days before the conference began and have been aired and reported extensively in public.

They include allegations that a Garda investigation is under way regarding a member of AGSI involved in doing private consultancy work — behaviour prohibited by gardaí.

Further allegations have also been made, all of which are detailed under protected disclosure legislation.

The garda against whom the claims have been made has said he was not informed that any investigation involving him was under way.

The national executive of the association held a lengthy meeting on Sunday to discuss the matter and said the investigation should be allowed to take its course.

The controversy reflects deep and serious divisions within what has traditionally been a relatively stable and unified Garda staff association executive.

Internal disputes and grievances have been a feature down the years of the Garda Representative Association, which represents rank and file members.

Underlining the scale of the problem at the AGSI conference is the absence of two senior association members, absences that have sent ripple effects among delegates and a clear message to the media.

The fact that all of this is happening in public at the AGSI’s landmark gathering — one attended by the justice minister yesterday evening and the commissioner today — is deeply embarrassing and worrying for the body.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris

One senior delegate, in the association a long time, told the Irish Examiner the conference had been “ruined” by the controversy.

He said the problem had been rumbling for “a long time” and said the way it had emerged in the run-up to the conference was “terrible” for the association.

It is unclear how these allegations are going to play out and what is the truth of them. The investigations into the garda are at an early stage. Minister Flanagan made very pointed comments about the controversy and its impact on the association in his address.

He stressed that he needed to know he could “trust” that the association represented its members.

That’s as fundamental as it gets for a representative body.

And that’s not the end of it. Today, the commissioner arrives and he may have something further to say.

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