An Garda Siochána - Special role means special obligations

THE very special role An Garda Siochána play was underlined yesterday when Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, despite facing the greatest economic crisis in the history of this State, announced that recruitment to the force will resume before the end of the year.

Some of those recruits are needed in the natural course of events, others are needed to replace gardaí who, in recent times, availed of early retirement opportunities because they were worried about the possibility of tax changes hitting retirement packages.

That special place is readily recognised by the majority of people who support the authority gardaí exercise on behalf of the State. This majority recognises too that the gardaí are the proactive arm of the Constitution who aim to protect all Irish people.

This responsibility brings its own consequences and one is the oath all gardaí must take, just like the 216 recruits who graduated from Templemore Training College yesterday afternoon. They vow to remain apolitical, not to join a trade union and not to strike.

There are good reasons for these provisions, the main one being the proper functioning and protection of democracy. The terms and conditions enjoyed by gardaí acknowledge the sacrifice inherent in this oath.

This week’s challenge to at least one of the oath’s obligations results in today’s meeting between Commissioner Fachtna Murphy, outgoing Garda Representative Association (GRA) head Michael O’Boyce and GRA general secretary PJ Stone. At issue will be the virulent political criticism contained in a speech Mr O’Boyce intended to deliver, but did not when Minister Ahern refused to attend the GRA conference after he was made aware of its contents.

Yesterday’s assertion by Mr Ahern that the GRA should apologise to the people of Ireland for involving itself in politics, and his declaration that the GRA would never be allowed to become a trade union as long as he was in office, may make what would have been a fraught meeting even more difficult.

Remarks from the GRA’s incoming president – Mr O’Boyce’s successor Damien McCarthy – that he had “no difficulty” in supporting his predecessor’s comments, did little to suggest that equilibrium had been restored, or that he understood how they crossed a line. Mr McCarthy’s endorsement suggests he feels free to ignore the commitment he has made, under oath, to this State and its Constitution. By echoing his predecessor he has undermined the legitimacy of his presidency in the week he assumed office. GRA delegates who gave a standing ovation to Mr O’Boyce need to reconsider the implications of the oath they took on the day they left Templemore too.

Even more pertinently, if any GRA conference delegates believe that some of our politicians are corrupt then surely they have a professional obligation to bring them to book? It might be easier to understand Mr O’Boyce’s remarks and Mr McCarthy’s endorsement if they could point to a substantial record of confronting political corruption in a way that led to convictions. The absence of such a record is its own testimony.

Nevertheless, there can be only one conclusion to today’s Phoenix Park meeting. The State, through Commissioner Murphy, must remind the GRA that they have made commitments under oath and that they cannot be broken without grave consequences. This is a time for the thoughtful leadership so absent in so many spheres rather than inappropriate confrontation.

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