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GRA claims Commissioner's discretion comments are 'wholly unacceptable'

The Garda Representative Association has called for an urgent meeting with the Commissioner.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE GARDA REPRESENTATIVE Association (GRA) has called for an urgent meeting with garda management over “wholly unacceptable” comments by Commissioner Drew Harris around the ongoing Limerick penalty point investigation. 

The move by the GRA is the latest in a series of industrial relations incidents arising from the probe. 

A wide-ranging National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) investigation into allegations of corruption among gardaí stationed in the mid-west has been ongoing in recent years.   

There are two investigations, one is focused on alleged garda collusion with a crime gang and the second is the alleged cancelling of traffic tickets for members of the public.

As previously reported by The Journal the issue has raised serious concerns for representatives centred around the policing use of discretion.  

Discretion is the policing phrase used to describe an individual garda’s decision not to prosecute a person for a minor infraction such as a road traffic incident – this could include not issuing a mobile phone or speeding ticket.

Harris had spoken at a Joint Policing Committee in Clare on Monday and during this meeting he was questioned about the progress of the investigation by Cathal Crowe TD. 

During this meeting, the GRA said, the Commissioner made comments regarding the use of discretion and the reason for the investigation.   

Crowe has previously, during a Dáil debate, stated that the garda investigation and the suspension of eight gardaí was akin to a “witch trial”.

When questioned by Crowe regarding the use by gardai of discretion Harris clarified his position.

“The difficulty is the difference between discretion and preference. I would say to every member of An Garda Síochána that properly exercising discretion is available to you, but make sure it is not preference. Preference is unfair – everyone must be treated equally before the law.”

Philip McAnenly, the Interim GRA General Secretary, attacked his comments in a statement issued late last night. 

“This is a new departure from current guidelines and advice. The introduction of the phrase ‘preference’ in policing is unclear and wholly unacceptable and our members need immediate clarity on the Commissioner’s comments and his clear definition of the term ‘preference’ in relation to the use of garda discretion.

“Our President, Frank Thornton, has already contacted Commissioner Harris last June requesting a meeting on these issues and related concerns and this was request was declined by the Garda Commissioner. 

“We now believe that Commissioner Harris’ comments regarding somehow drawing the line between the use of discretion and ‘preference’ are vague, and has led to confusion among our members,” he said. 

When asked if the Commissioner would meet the GRA a garda spokesperson refused to “comment on remarks made by third parties”.

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They added: “An Garda Síochána enjoys a strong relationship with the communities we serve based on our long held and understood tradition of policing by consent. Discretion is an important facet of providing this policing service.

“The Code of Ethics for the Garda Síochána recognises the necessity for discretion for operational Gardaí.

“Many working in the Garda Síochána have significant autonomy in their daily duties. They are required to exercise considerable discretion in fulfilling their responsibilities.

“They are on the spot; they respond to given situations; they make instant decisions. This Code does not change that. But this autonomy and need for discretion means that ethical behaviour is an essential part of the work of everyone in the Garda Síochána.”

The garda spokesperson also quoted at length from the Policing Authority in regard to their views on discretion and “preference”.

“Gardaí are trained to apply the law and deliver policing services in a fair and equitable manner.

“The application of the law is facilitated by the Garda’s discretionary policing powers underpinned by the Code of Ethics and Garda Decision Making Model,” the spokesperson added.

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