Sunday 25 September 2016

Gardai admit it was ‘not appropriate’ to take part in photocall organised by ‘Yes’ campaigners

Brian O'Reilly and Niall O'Connor

Published 20/04/2015 | 11:36

Former Supreme Court Judge, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness with Garda Kerrie Sullivan and young cross-party political supporters at Pearse Street Garda Station
Former Supreme Court Judge, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness with Garda Kerrie Sullivan and young cross-party political supporters at Pearse Street Garda Station

IT was ‘not appropriate’ for members of the gardai to take part in a photocall organised ‘Yes’ campaigners in a voter registration drive, the force has said.

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Uniformed members of the force were pictured yesterday during the photocall, which was held in order to encourage voter registration ahead of May's marriage referendum.

However members of the 'No' campaign claimed it was not appropriate that members of the force participated in an event organised by the 'Yes' side.

In a brief statement issued this morning, it said: “In relation to yesterday’s photocall at Pearse Street Garda Station in Dublin, while the event was held in good faith to promote the fact that people can register at Garda stations to vote in the upcoming referenda, it was not appropriate for this kind of photocall to take place given An Garda Siochana’s status as an apolitical and impartial organisation.”

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe says he supports the decision of senior garda management to rebuke the female officer who featured in a 'Yes Equality' photo shoot.

The Fine Gael politician said it is essential the force maintains its "political independence", adding that he believes the photograph itself was an "accident".

The garda appeared in a photo outside Pearse Street Garda Station with former Supreme Court vote Catherine McGuinness who is campaigning for a yes vote in next month's referendum.

Speaking to the reporters at a Tourism Ireland event in Dublin, Mr Donohoe said he believes garda bosses have taken the right decision.

"I believe the political independence of An Garda Siochana is really essential to how they maintain public support and faith. We have seen that tested to its core as the gardai have had to patrol our streets and play an active role in response to what has happened there with protests that were largely peaceful in relation to Irish Water," he said.

"I do believe that picture was an accident. And I believe An Garda Siochana have done the right thing just to respond back today to affirm they won't play a role in any political matters..."

Tiernan Brady of the Yes Equality campaign yesterday stressed that the gardaí were there merely to encourage citizens to ensure that they were on the register - regardless of how they intended to vote.

He said it was not a political move.

"The gardai are here emphasising civic duty and the importance of voter turn out, no matter what the vote," he said.

However, 'No' advocate, Senator Ronan Mullen said he "would have thought it would be inappropriate for State agencies to get involved in a campaign on either side.

"Given the Garda role as an impartial force and their administration role in elections, it seems very strange indeed," he said.

He called on the Garda authorities to "clarify how this happened and to reassure that it won't happen again".

The photocall at Pearse Street Garda Station was also attended by retired Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness.

She told the Irish Independent that she, too, was present to urge people to ensure that they were on the voting register.

However she also added that she "made no secret" of the fact that she is backing a 'Yes' vote in the forthcoming marriage referendum on May 22.

"I'm not pretending I'm not on the 'Yes' side," she said.

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