Reserve force - Time for talks to solve garda row

Whatever virtues may be attached to the establishment of a garda reserve force, they are ill-served by the polarisation between Justice Minister Michael McDowell and the majority of gardaí.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) are implacably against the idea, while the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents (AGCS) has said it has a “number of issues” with the new body.

The latter association, while appearing to be tentative on the issue, is at least having consultations next week with the Department of Justice about it, although the first meeting will only take place on Monday.

Given that the question of a 4,000-strong reserve was a predictably sensitive issue, it is remarkable that talks have not yet taken place between the parties concerned - with the plan already in the public domain.

The provenance of the idea for a volunteer force, now Government policy, is clouded, with a various officials, at all levels, reluctant to claim ownership of it.

The minister has previously insisted that the proposal came from Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy.

Yet, GRA general secretary PJ Stone has said that the commissioner has made it very clear to the representative bodies that the proposal came from the Government via the Department of Justice.

Mr Stone’s organisation and the AGSI are now collaborating against the idea of a reserve force to such an extent that gardaí, sergeants and inspectors are virtually in open revolt.

Their next joint meeting in Cork, which takes place on Monday night, is likely to underline their position of non co-operation.

The campaign has also employed newspaper advertisements disparaging the minister.

According to the representative organisations, garda management invoked a rule dating back to the ’70s to order the removal of posters in garda stations informing their members of meetings.

Amidst this worrying dispute that has pitted the Justice Minister against both rank-and-file gardaí and middle-ranking officers, the needs of communities throughout the country for proper and adequate policing are being forgotten.

These communities, both urban and rural, need the reassurance of more gardaí on the beat, with sufficient resources in support, and it is more than possible that such a reserve force might be part of the answer.

The entrenched attitudes adopted by both sides will have to be dismantled to allow common sense prevail.

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