Doubt cast on public’s ability to sue gardaí

Legal experts have cast doubt on claims by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald that striking gardaí could be sued by people for damages suffered as a result of any failure to provide a police service tomorrow.

Speaking on Tuesday, the justice minister said: “Very importantly, any garda who is involved in the withdrawal of labour does not have the protections of our industrial relations legislation from being sued for any damages which might be caused.”

Eddie Keane, an employment law lecturer at University of Limerick, said the protection was understood to protect workers from being sued by their employer for any losses they suffer due to withdrawal of labour.

“In general, an individual worker owes a duty to their employer to perform their services. In turn, the employer owes a duty to the customer to provide the overall service,” he said.

“On this line of logic, the Garda Síochána, as an organisation, owes a duty to the public to provide the services expected of a police force while each individual garda’s duty is owed to the organisation.

“Therefore, if there is any potential for an action by a member of the public due to a loss attributable to the lack of garda availability, it is to be taken against the organisation, as distinct from individual gardaí. There are no real grounds for a member of the public taking an action against an individual garda.”

He said the law regarding suing the organisation was a little unclear, saying there was a strong presumption that police forces are immune from being sued for any loss.

Professor Dermot Walsh of Kent Law School said: “I would say that under the current jurisprudence it would prove very difficult for a victim to sue any individual garda or the garda commissioner for compensation for harm suffered at the hands of a third party where that harm might have been avoided by garda investigative or preventative actions.”

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