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Terrorism, assaults and the right to grow beards will be debated by rank-and-file gardaí

An internal dispute about two motions being removed from the GRA’s agenda is also likely to boil over this week.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE country’s 10,300 rank-and-file gardaí will gather in Galway later today ahead of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual delegate conference.

There are 32 motions on the agenda for the 152 delegates to debate in relation to policing, training and resources as well as an internal dispute relating to last November’s pay talks that is expected to boil over when the conference is officially opened tomorrow morning.

On policing, delegates are calling for the provision of counter-terrorism training to all members – not just specialist units - as the garda on the ground is likely to be a first responder.

The conference will also debate a motion on firearms and tactical training “bearing in mind the current levels of gangland criminal activity”.

One motion on the agenda calls for the association to carry out an audit to establish the number of assaults on members, the nature of assaults and to track the prosecution or otherwise of the offenders. Delegates representing members from 31 garda divisions are also expected to vote in favour of a motion calling for a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction for an assault on any member of the frontline emergency services.

In a not-so-subtle dig at Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, the Meath division tabled a motion calling for her to publicly speak out on critical vacancies in frontline staffing “in a similar manner as the Commissioner did in relation to senior management vacancies”.

Bearded police officers

An offbeat motion from the Kildare division asks the commissioner to change garda rules to allow members the “personal preference of the wearing of a beard on duty”.

The Garda Review covered the topic in its June edition last year, highlighting a number of court cases taken by police officers in other jurisdictions, mainly on religious grounds.

Back in 2001, the association raised this issue in relation to garda whistleblower John Wilson, who was confined to indoor duties for breaching regulations by letting his facial hair grow. Wilson said at the time that he was suffering from a skin condition which was eased by growing a beard.

The garda code was changed in 2005 to include an exemption from this rule for members who cannot shave for medical reasons.

Conference to kick off?

There will be tension as delegates come together tomorrow morning for the first time since their pay deal at the end of last year. It will be their first chance to question the full central executive committee about decisions that were made at that pivotal time in garda industrial relations history.

Readers may remember the internal row that broke out between members of the association’s central executive committee (CEC) the day before the first planned strike day.

Members of the CEC – and the association in general – were enraged when it was announced by GRA leaders at a press conference that 18 units were being asked to report for duty on the day of the strike. It followed a meeting with garda management in which GRA representatives allege they were told martial law would have to be implemented – though the Taoiseach said this was never contemplated.

The CEC had not been consulted about this agreement with garda management – some only learned about it from the press. As a result, a motion of no confidence in general secretary Pat Ennis was tabled at a committee meeting. The final result was 16-25 in his favour.

A pointed motion on this year’s agenda has been tabled by the Kildare division, demanding that the general secretary and officer board do not make decisions of national importance without the permission of the CEC.

However, after a threat of legal action from the association’s own general secretary, two other motions were removed from the final agenda. It is expected the removal of these motions will be a subject of controversy over the next few days.

In his opening address to the conference, President Ciaran O’Neill will tell delegates that the association’s “democratic process is open and accountable”.

Breath tests and fixed charge notices

And, of course, there is the topic of the almost one million phantom breath tests recorded on the Pulse system, and the thousands of drivers who received court summonses without being given the opportunity to first pay a fine.

O’Neill will tell delegates that An Garda Síochána is “too often used as a political football by government and opposition parties”.

He will also speak of ”perceived crises in leadership” of the organisation, calling for the Garda Commissioner to be transparent and honest about the impact of political decisions on operational capability.

The association has yet to make a comment about the recent controversies.

The Garda Commissioner and Minister for Justice are both due to attend the conference in Salthill to address delegates.

For live updates from the conference in Galway over the next three days, follow @michellehetweet.

Read: ‘People are blaming us’: Gardaí say scandals are making it harder for them to do their jobs>

Read: Commissioner to sergeants and inspectors: ‘You’re the supervisors – so what happened?’>

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