Friday 19 January 2018

Threat of disciplinary action against ‘walk-out gardai’ is ‘disgraceful’

By Brian Hutton, PA

THREATENED disciplinary action against four Garda sergeants for publicly snubbing a speech by the force's chief has been branded despicable and disgraceful.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said it was standing "four-square" behind the officers who have been summoned to a meeting with Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning tomorrow evening over the protest.

It is understood they will be warned that Garda bosses are taking their high-profile demonstration at the Agsi annual conference this week "very, very seriously".

The four, from the Carlow/Kilkenny division, staged a walk out when Justice Minister Alan Shatter got up to address the gathering and - in an unprecedented move - again when the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan took to the podium.

Both Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan will discuss potential actions after the meeting.

An outraged Agsi general secretary John Redmond angrily denounced any threatened measures against the members whom he said were simply representing their colleagues.

"We are absolutely four-square behind those members," he said.

"It is despicable to threaten those hard-working members with discipline for bringing the views of their membership to the attention of the national executive and the delegates of this conference.

"It is a disgraceful way to treat people who are trying to engage with management on the welfare and pay and conditions of members, who are working hard day in and day out in rural Ireland.

"It is disgraceful."

Mr Redmond, who yesterday distanced himself from remarks by one of the protesters that they had no confidence in the commissioner, said the four sergeants were elected representatives for Agsi and were doing what they had been mandated to.

"These are four very honourable, senior members of the Garda organisation," he said.

"They have nearly 130 years service between them. And this one thing - doing something to bring on the welfare, pay and conditions of their members - then this is what they are threatened with.

"It is outrageous."

Mr Redmond said Agsi, which represents more than 2,000 mid-ranking officers, was offering the sergeants legal assistance and would protect them as far as they can.

Asst Cmmr Fanning will tell the four - who will be accompanied by their legal advisors - Garda management's dim view of the protest before advising the Garda Commissioner, who will consult with Mr Shatter.

Sanction is needed from Mr Shatter to take any disciplinary measures because they were acting in their capacity as Agsi representatives rather than as on-duty gardai.

A Garda source said it was not a disciplinary meeting yet and there has been no sanction sought at this stage from the Justice Minister for disciplinary action.

"It hasn't gone to that stage yet," the source said.

Potential action could include demotion, suspension and fines. But the source insisted that was "a bit down the line yet" and would only come if and when there was a full disciplinary board process, which would have recourse to the courts.

As tensions mounted over proposed Garda pay cuts, Mr Shatter hit out again at both Agsi and the Garda Representative Association (GRA).

"Both Garda bodies have over the years fallen out with a succession of ministers for justice," he said.

"Unfortunately there seems to be a confrontational approach adopted by these bodies in addressing issues on occasion rather than engaging reasonably and constructively."

Mr Shatter said members of the force had to understand that reforms are implemented by government in the public interest.

Rank-and-file gardai continued to ignore warnings of disciplinary action to hold the latest in their series of protests.

About 50 members of the GRA demonstrated outside Taoiseach Enda Kenny's offices in central Dublin.

PJ Stone, general secretary of the GRA, attacked Mr Kenny over claims that officers' representatives had walked out of public sector negotiations and that the reductions were fair.

"An Taoiseach was disingenuous on Monday when he blamed us for walking out of pay talks - and suggesting we could have made a deal," he said.

"We were never offered a seat in the negotiations between Government and the trade unions; members of An Garda Siochana have been sidelined since 1922.

"We see current proposals as blatantly unfair. How our Taoiseach can see this as fair is simply baffling.

"Any public servant working nine to five and earning up to 65,000 euro (£55,000) per year will not have their pay reduced; while a garda earning €38,000 per year will suffer a substantial pay cut: under the proposals before the trade union congress only gardai and nurses are targeted."

The GRA said it would not be inviting the Justice Minister to their annual conference next month.

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