Paul Williams: 'It's time for our politicians to stop using gardaí as whipping boys'
A Government minister may have handed the vociferous detractors of our gardaí another stick to beat them with - but even the most ardent critics of the force have been left scratching their heads.
Finian McGrath has, for good reason, landed himself in hot water after his ludicrous accusation that gardaí have become politicised because they oppose the new drink-driving legislation.
My initial reaction when I read the comments in the 'Sunday Independent' was to check the date, just in case it was an early April Fool's joke.
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One would think that such an accusation could only be levelled at gardaí if they were not carrying out the breath tests at mandatory alcohol testing check points. But the minister is of the view that gardaí are trying to undermine legislation introduced by his Independent Alliance colleague Shane Ross by actually enforcing it!
John Jacob, the head of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), hit the nail on the head when he said the remarks effectively placed members in a "no-win situation" that left them "damned if we do and damned if we don't".
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan labelled the remarks "bizarre" and "dangerous". Maybe he should have added in some of the other ingredients of 'Gubu' with "grotesque, unbelievable and unprecedented".
Such remarks by a Government minister are indeed unprecedented. The issue of the politicisation of any police force lies in the relationship it has with the ruling Government.
Even by the standards of the political dolly-mixture that is the Independent Alliance, Mr McGrath's outburst stretches their logic to breaking point.
The ill-thought-out remarks illustrate an apparent disconnect with Mr Ross, who as Transport Minister drove the tough road traffic laws and, to ensure maximum publicity, then publicly insisted that the Garda enforces them.
Despite Mr McGrath's rush to apologise and attempt to un-say what he said on the record, he has done a huge disservice to the men and women who risk their lives policing our streets.
After years of controversy and scandal, caused mostly by top Garda management and not the ordinary ranks, gardaí should no longer be used as the whipping boy for politicians.
The truth is that policing by its nature is Janus-faced as it deals with conflict, inevitably helping some by controlling others. As the leading international policing academic Robert Reiner puts it: "One side's reasonable and necessary force is the other's unjust tyranny."
McGrath's stupid outburst merits his resignation from Cabinet but don't bet on it: Government survival will prevail over proper conduct.
In other words, they will continue to politicise the issue of policing.