Friday 30 September 2016

Gardaí must keep above referendum campaign

Published 21/04/2015 | 02:30

It was a major error of judgment to involve members of An Garda Síochána, in their official role as police men and women, in the same-sex marriage referendum camp (Stock image)
It was a major error of judgment to involve members of An Garda Síochána, in their official role as police men and women, in the same-sex marriage referendum camp (Stock image)

It was a major error of judgment to involve members of An Garda Síochána, in their official role as police men and women, in the same-sex marriage referendum campaign.

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We stress that no blame should attach to the individual garda, who has become embroiled in a controversy not of her making. An Garda has explained that a referendum event, ostensibly to boost voter registration, was held "in good faith" ahead of the vote on May 22.

However, it later emerged that this was run by the 'Yes' campaign and at the event retired Judge Catherine McGuinness signalled support for the 'Yes' side.

These two factors lent a partisan flavour to the occasion.

The Garda press office yesterday said it was "not appropriate for this kind of photocall to take place, given An Garda Síochána's status as an apolitical and impartial organisation".

Judge Catherine McGuinness is an experienced politician, lawyer and judge who has revealed that she favours a 'Yes' vote. Her involvement in a registration campaign will be seen in that light. But, more importantly, the garda involved should not have been put in this invidious situation.

We now need a clear signal from Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald that the gardaí will not be dragged into this campaign.

That is imperative, as members of the Garda Representative Association, representing rank-and-file members of the force, have declared they are advocating a 'Yes' vote on May 22. Here we must all make a clear distinction between An Garda Síochána and the advocacy organisation for the well-being of individual gardaí. It is a long-established right of all trade unions to take such a role in political discourse.

Finally, some of those on the 'No' side have raised concerns about the perceived links of the Referendum Commission chairman, Mr Justice Kevin Cross, to the Fine Gael party. They stress that they are not for one second questioning the judge's independence and integrity. But they do stress the need for the Commission to be above all suggestion or perception of links to any group.

Irish Independent

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