GRA snubs Shatter as garda row reaches crisis point
Relations hit an all-time low as walkout sergeants face sanctions
THE row between the two main garda representative bodies and Alan Shatter has hit crisis point after the Justice Minister said he was glad his wife had not accompanied him to a conference this week.
His comments added further fuel to the row between Mr Shatter and gardai up to the rank of inspector.
The rank-and-file Garda Representative Association (GRA) then announced that it would not be inviting Mr Shatter to its annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, next month.
The GRA said it had not yet decided whether Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan would be invited.
This is the first time that any garda representative group has not invited a justice minister to an annual conference since their formation in the mid-1970s.
When Michael McDowell held the portfolio, he was not invited to address the GRA's conference but he was asked to attend a dinner at the event.
The latest row involving Mr Shatter erupted as four sergeants were threatened with disciplinary action after they walked out on Mr Callinan at the conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) in Sligo and said they had lost confidence in him.
The four have been summoned to a meeting at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary, this afternoon.
The leadership of the AGSI pledged last night to strongly defend the sergeants if attempts were made to discipline them.
General secretary John Redmond said it was outrageous that they should be threatened with "the big stick" forrepresenting the views of their colleagues in the Carlow-Kilkenny branch of the association.
Mr Shatter had said he was "pleased" his wife Carol was not with him when he addressed the annual conference of the AGSI in Sligo on Monday evening.
"I am pleased my wife did not accompany me to that event because I don't think their conduct could be described as courteous or reasonable behaviour," he said.
Speaking on RTE Radio, he added: "It is regrettable that they did not engage on pay and conditions issues, and they have done a disservice to their members.
"Unfortunately, there seems to be a confrontational approach adopted by these bodies in addressing these issues rather than engaging in reasonable and constructive discussions."
Four of the delegates walked out when Mr Shatter was about to address the conference and the rest reacted to his speech with silence.
At the time, Mr Shatter said justice ministers could expect that sort of reaction.
However, last night Mr Shatter appeared to change his mind and this has led to a further worsening of relations.
AGSI chief Mr Redmond warned that disciplinary action would not help relations between the association and the commissioner.
Responding to the minister last night, he said he had met Mr Shatter when he arrived at the conference and treated him with the utmost courtesy and respect.
On the way out from the conference, Mr Shatter opted not to speak to him or to other officials as they were escorting him to the front door.
While they were shaking hands, Mr Shatter told Mr Redmond that he hoped they would have a more mature engagement the next time they met.
Mr Redmond said he replied that he regarded Mr Shatter's comments as unbecoming of a minister.
Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins called on Mr Shatter to radically change his behaviour to avert a total breakdown in the relationship between the gardai and the Government.
Meanwhile, the 'walkout' sergeants, Joe Hanley, of Tullow station, Pat Baldwin, Kilkenny, Ted Hughes, Thomastown, and John Foley, Carlow, and their representatives will meet the assistant commissioner in charge of human resources, Fintan Fanning.
The Templemore meeting is not part of the disciplinary process but will be used to outline what has been described as the "abhorrence" of Commissioner Callinan in relation to the comments from the sergeants about a lack of confidence in him.
The meeting is expected to focus on their walkout as Mr Callinan was about to address the delegates and a subsequent interview with some national media outlets, including the Irish Independent, in which they mentioned the motion of "no confidence".
The sergeants said they had been given a mandate by their branch last January to stage walkouts in front of the commissioner and Mr Shatter, and had fulfilled the wishes of their members. Senior sources said last night that a "sensible" approach would be adopted by the authorities in dealing with the incidents in Sligo.
Under the disciplinary code, there are three possible breaches that could be investigated by the authorities.
Anyone convicted of a minor breach faces a reprimand, caution or admonition.
Conviction of a "less serious" breach carries those penalties plus a fine of up to two weeks' pay, while a "serious" breach can result in those penalties including a stiffer fine and the ultimate sanction of a recommendation to the commissioner for dismissal.
A decision on what action might be taken in this case is also likely to be influenced by the good working relationship between the human resources section at garda headquarters and the association and, in particular, the achievements made in successfully introducing a radical new duty roster for the force.
After the association met in closed session at the conference and a special national executive meeting, Mr Redmond said he hoped that those in senior levels in trade unions would support them in their stance.
"It is not fair and it is not right that people representing those in country stations, or any other station for that matter, to be subject to a threat of discipline for doing what we are supposed to be doing," he added.
He said it was outrageous that in 2013, a hundred years after Jim Larkin, they were at this stage.
Mr Redmond pointed out that under the regulations gardai could be disciplined for failing to meet their mortgage payments.
"We have people in situations who can't put meat on their table for their children and they have to continue to try and pay down their mortgages.
"We can't strike, we can't represent our views at a national level through unions, we can't negotiate directly with government.
"It is time those things changed," Mr Redmond said.