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Sam Boal/
Law and Order

Garda reps say martial law was threatened - Taoiseach says it was never contemplated

The GRA’s officer board claimed they were told there was “an immediate and viable threat to the security of the State”.

IT CAME DOWN to the wire with the garda pay dispute last night, with the decision made late in the game by both representative associations to defer their action and ballot members.

While the general executive of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) displayed a united front, the top table of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) was split in its decision with a 20-17 vote result.

The split vote followed a row among the central executive committee over a request that gardaí on a number of units report for duty on the strike day today. The officer board - the top GRA honchos - met with garda management yesterday morning and, before consulting its CEC, agreed to the list of units and issued a press release to the media:

A fierce row erupted at their scheduled meeting at 2pm and the committee were told garda management had said the Minister for Justice would have to “declare martial law” in the country.

According to a source, they were “told there was an immediate and viable threat to the security of the State”.

This forced the officer board to bypass the democratic will of the CEC and by extension 96% of the membership.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, the GRA president Ciaran O’Neill would not be drawn to give specifics of the meeting with garda management. However, he did say they had expressed “certain fears in respect of the security of the State”.

Tipperary representative Tom Finnan, however, did confirm to Tipp FM that martial law was mentioned in the meeting.

Detective Chief Superintendent Michael O’Sullivan sought to clarify the situation on RTÉ radio this morning, stating the first mention he heard of martial law was “in the headlines”.

He stressed it had, at no stage, appeared in the garda contingency plan for today.

“”It never ever appeared. There was no need to put the army on the streets. We have a perfectly good contingency plan and there was no need for it”.

Though he said it was neither needed nor included in plans, he did not state whether garda management had never discussed the possibility with the GRA’s officer board.

Similarly, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said martial law had never been part of the plan – though he did not have any representative at the meeting between garda management and the GRA.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin earlier, he said:

I met with the Minister for Justice, and the Garda Commissioner and senior garda management and the Minister for Public Expenditure on Monday and, while contingency arrangements are a matter for the Commissioner in the context of the day-to-day running of the gardaí, I can assure you and confirm to you martial law that the question of martial law, ie the army being on the streets of this country, was never contemplated and never raised.

Though there are no specific provisions in Irish law covering martial law, there is nothing to stop a government from asking the Defence Forces to provide a policing service.

Assistant professor at law in Trinity College David Kenny told

“There has long been a conventional arrangement where the defence forces assist with law enforcement, which is known as “aid to the civil power”. Most commonly in Ireland, this has been for guarding the transit of money, prison security, sensitive prisoners transfer, protection for state visits etc.

“The courts have commented in passing that the Defence Forces providing such aid is an acceptable arrangement and to be expected. However, this has always been supplementing – not supplanting – the role of the gardaí. Using the defence forces as primary law enforcement – rather than backing and aiding civilian authorities in particular instances – would be something else.”

He added that since the Constitution is silent on the question of policing, “there is some vagueness about the division between civilian and military powers”.

I am not aware of any statutory provision that either enables or specifically prevents use of the defence forces as primary civilian law enforcement, and it would be difficult to say what the legal status of such an action would be. However, it would greatly exceed the long-held convention about the limits of using the defence forces for civilian law enforcement.

Whatever happened at that meeting yesterday morning, it caused badly-timed tension between members of the association’s top table, which has created serious uncertainty about how their members on the ground will vote.

They are expected to be balloted as soon as next week, though results are unlikely before the next planned strike day.

Read: Poll: Was the GRA right to call off the Garda strike?>

Read: Garda strike: Here’s the deal that’s being offered to gardaí>

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