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Leah Farrell via

New president and vice-president elected to garda body during controversial conference

Members vented their frustration during the conference.

A NEW PRESIDENT and vice-president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) were today elected to their positions during a controversial online annual delegate meeting. 

Frank Thornton and Brendan O’Connor were appointed to their respective roles this afternoon. Both stood unopposed.

The GRA, which represents 12,500 rank-and-file members of the force, typically elects its executive at an annual meeting. However, the pandemic meant that the conference had to be conducted online for the first time in its history. 

A number of motions were passed during the conference with the safety of young members a topic of discussion for much of the event. 

However, internal difficulties for the organisation were also high on the agenda with a frank speech from outgoing president Jim Mulligan. 

He expressed concerns about some aspects of the GRA, telling delegates that he had reported certain matters to the Justice Minister, Helen McEntee, who in turn asked Commissioner Drew Harris to investigate. 


Internal unrest in the days leading up to today’s conference led to many members not attending in protest. A number of informed sources described the holding of the conference as “farcical”.

Correspondence seen by this publication yesterday detailed how some felt that the delegate meeting was “a sham” forced through to get rid of outgoing members of the executive.

Mulligan, in his address near the start of the conference, himself called the conference a “sham”.

He added that he believed the main reason for the conference to go ahead was to ensure that general secretary, Pat Ennis, was removed from his position.

In February of this year, it emerged that Ennis’ contract was not to be renewed. He had served as general secretary for over three years and received 61% of the vote to stay on. However, under GRA rules, he needed over 66% to keep his position. 

“Pat Ennis in my mind is the Ronaldo of industrial relations of An Garda Síochána, but we are now taking him off the pitch,” he said.

The entire conference was held online with all registered delegates able to use a chat function to request to speak or to put forward members for election. 

However, members also used this chat function to vent their frustration to the outgoing president about his tenure. 

New vice-president Brendan O’Connor said he and his colleagues in the GRA had become disillusioned with the association and said they often found it difficult to distinguish between the message coming from the GRA and that coming from management.

He said it is his job to help “bring the GRA forward” out of these difficult times.  

Safety concerns

Speaking today, shortly after being elected president of the GRA, Thornton focused less on his election and more on one of the themes of the conference. He said that younger gardaí have significant training and supervision needs.

Thornton said: “About a third of frontline gardaí have been recruited in the past six years and are still relatively inexperienced. There are also gardaí working the frontline who have not completed their training.

“We are seeing increasing violence against gardai and all-time high levels of weapons seizures. More experienced gardai can sometimes identify threats that perhaps, younger members may not see making them vulnerable to serious injury.”

Thornton added that the potential mental health effects of policing on members should be taken more seriously.

A garda survey last month showed many members believe there is a stigma attached to seeking mental and emotional support.

“This is very worrying especially considering that gardaí sometimes witness gruesome and distressing scenes that can be traumatic. Identifying the threat and preparing yourself is something that comes with experience, so again newer recruits may be more at-risk.,” he added

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