JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter sparked fury by telling the main garda representative bodies that their approach on the latest Croke Park talks was a "disservice" to members of the force.
In a hard-hitting assessment of their decision to walk out of the talks on pay and allowances, he told the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and the Garda Representative Association (GRA) they had lost sight of their original purpose.
"I have to say to you, quite frankly, it would have been much better if your representatives had been at the negotiating table during the recent pay talks," he told delegates at the AGSI annual conference in Sligo last night. "I believe the approach taken is a disservice to members of the force."
Four delegates, from the Carlow-Kilkenny branch, walked out as Mr Shatter began his address and the rest greeted his comments with stony silence.
An AGSI leader had earlier accused Mr Shatter of telling lies about station closures.
But Mr Shatter was not concerned by the reception he received. He said there were very few ministers for justice who had not been given the silent treatment by one or both of the associations.
Mr Shatter said he was delighted to be invited to address the conference and had been met with courtesy and he appreciated that. But it was also important that the gardai should be informed about the economic reality, he said.
Mr Shatter said the public pay and pensions bill could not be insulated from cuts in the current economic climate.
He rejected claims the garda associations had been sidelined and could have played no meaningful part in discussions.
Mr Shatter also pointed out that the Prison Officers' Association had been successful in renegotiating the original proposals to the benefit of its members.
He told the conference he had secured a partial lifting of the ban on promotion to permit the immediate appointment of 82 new sergeants and 34 inspectors from the current panels.
He also hoped to shortly conclude a more general agreement on the strength in those ranks.
Earlier, President Tim Galvin had claimed Mr Shatter had told "lies" over stations closures. He said Mr Shatter had promised the gardai last year they would be consulted and kept informed about plans for more shutdowns.
"Your words were lies," he said. "Twelve months on and nothing has changed. One hundred stations were earmarked since then and despite numerous requests to garda management and to you, we found out what stations were closing from an internal garda system while you stood in the Dail making the announcement."
He said the closure of stations had destroyed the bedrock of the garda organisation, which was the ability of people to live and work in their communities.
Mr Galvin, whose speech was delivered by national executive member Larry Brady as he was unable to attend the conference, said the local garda was a vital link between the organisation and the public it served.
Mr Galvin also claimed there were no deterrents to attacks on gardai and other frontline service members and there seemed to be carte blanche acceptance they could be assaulted.
He cited attacks on gardai including the fatal shooting of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe and a young garda slashed in the face in Tallaght. He said morale in the garda force was at an all-time low.
Asked afterwards about the accusation that he had told lies about station closures, Mr Shatter said it was unfortunate that the remark had been made.
He said he had made it clear in talks last October that it would not be physically possible to consult individual gardai about proposed station closures in their areas.
Mr Shatter also said he would shortly receive the report from the garda authorities on the investigation into allegations about penalty points being waived by garda officers, and promised that the findings would be published.