UNQUALIFIED support from the incoming president of the Garda Representative Body (GRA) for his predecessor's attack on the Government has turned what might have been seen as an eccentric, valedictory outburst into something far more serious.
In a vitriolic declaration of no confidence, at the GRA annual conference on Tuesday night, Michael O'Boyce accused the Government of national sabotage. He did not actually stand up and make the speech because, he said, the Minister for Justice had not turned up to respond to the accusations.
Dermot Ahern had taken a rain check on his intended humiliation and gone to RTE instead. In Limerick, hundreds of assembled gardai gave the unspoken speech a standing ovation anyway. Mr O'Boyce accused the Government, Fianna Fail and the Minister for Justice of corruption and treachery. His successor, the new president of the GRA, says he has no difficulty in supporting those sentiments, "100pc and without reservation". And the general secretary of the GRA insists they accurately reflect members' views.
So, if all these statements are sincere, the police force of this country has displayed open contempt for the elected Government, whose laws and directives it is sworn to enforce. Yet the GRA leaders insist that they are not engaging in politics.
This is not the first time the GRA and a Minister for Justice have been at odds over irresponsible and provocative remarks. On the last occasion, however, the association quickly saw sense, perhaps because the political response to its threats was prompt and uncompromising. In May 2006, the GRA was forced to apologise to the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, for its threat to target Government seats in the coming general election. At issue was the creation of the Garda Reserve.
The minister had been pointedly not invited to the GRA conference. But he went to Galway anyway, and told the gardai there to keep out of politics, or face repercussions, namely, the sack. Perhaps Dermot Ahern should have gone to the GRA conference on Tuesday and done some direct talking instead of sitting in the 'Prime Time' studio complaining that a line had been crossed. When someone challenges you by drawing a line in the sand, the accepted procedure is to fight back.