Frances Fitzgerald blames Dáil business for garda conference no-show

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will be a no-show at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors conference this week after telling the group last Thursday she would not attend.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has confirmed she will attend, however, and is to give an address tomorrow afternoon just hours before the Dáil debates a Fianna Fáil motion calling on the Government to have the Policing Authority assess her role and capacity, and to place her office under the authority’s supervision.

On Wednesday, Ms O’Sullivan will be at the centre of another Dáil debate when Sinn Féin table a motion calling for her to be removed from office.

The minister has blamed Dáil commitments on her late pull-out from the conference which begins today in Killarney. Although her department will foot much of the bill for settling the pay claim that led to Garda strikes late last year, the relationship with the scandal-hit force remains strained.

Pay remains an issue and the conference will debate motions seeking further pay improvements through the restoration of subsistence and travel expenses to the levels paid before cutbacks in 2009 and the reinstatement of allowances for using private cars for work in the case of newly promoted inspectors.

They will also call for basic tools such as IT equipment for downloading and viewing CCTV footage at all Garda stations, secure lockers for storing evidence, and fully waterproof jackets for members on patrol.

Members are also demanding better training, fairer promotions procedures, and a more transparent process for investigating complaints against gardaí, including the right to know who has made a complaint and what the allegations were when an investigation is discontinued.

They also want a new criminal offence to be created to outlaw the photographing or filming of gardaí on duty without their consent where the publishing or uploading of such images on any form of media would identify the member or members involved.

A related motion calls for adequate protections and supports for members of the force and their families who are subjected to harassment on social media and other forms of intimidation as a result of performing their duties. The motion also seeks the development of “a communications strategy for the removal of such posts”.

A motion on mandatory breath testing calls for the drink driving laws to be changed to allow gardaí breathalyse anyone driving in any public place at any time. Currently breath-testing may only take place at checkpoints or when a road traffic offence is witnessed or suspected.

Another road safety motion seeks legislation to make it obligatory for all cyclists to wear helmets and high visibility clothing. Another seeks to make it mandatory that members who attend at a traumatic incident are offered referral to a psychologist or counsellor.

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