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Finian McGrath withdraws comments over political policing after strong criticism from Cabinet colleagues

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, McGrath said the policing of new drink driving laws had been “really over the top”.

File photo of Finian McGrath.
File photo of Finian McGrath.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated Mar 31st 2019, 5:56 PM

JUNIOR MINISTER FINIAN McGrath has withdrawn comments he made in an interview with a Sunday newspaper around political policing, after he came in for strong criticism from his Cabinet colleagues. 

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Disabilities Minister McGrath said that the implementation and policing of new drink driving laws had been “really over the top”. 

According to the paper, he said there was an “agenda” in the gardaí to damage government and called on Commissioner Drew Harris to “de-politicise” the force. 

“A police force – like teachers, nurses – guards should always be non-political,” McGrath said.

I would like Drew Harris now, as part of the reforms we have, to de-politicise anything like that in a police force.

His comments were labelled as bewildering and bizarre” by his Cabinet colleague, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. 

“Bewildering & Bizarre comments by @FinianMcGrathTD in today’s Sunday Independent. Allegations of ‘political policing’ unwise even dangerous,” Flanagan tweeted. 

Withdraws comments 

In a statement this afternoon following the criticism, McGrath said he was supportive of the gardaí, acknowledged his comments were wrong and retracted them. 

“Nobody is more supportive of the work An Garda Síochána does – often in tough circumstances – than I am,” he said. 

“My comments in this morning’s Sunday Independent were prompted by concerns raised with me over the past number of weeks. I acknowledge that these concerns were wrong and I am happy to withdraw my comments. 

I am also happy to state that I have full confidence in An Garda Síochána and that I was wrong to suggest there was any element of politicising within the Force over the new drink driving regulations. 

The Independent Alliance – the political grouping of which McGrath is a member – also released a statement, welcoming his withdrawal of the comments.

“While every member of the Independent Alliance is entitled to voice their views, it is only right that Minister McGrath withdrew those remarks,” the IA said. 

The Independent Alliance fully supports the implementation of new drink driving legislation by An Garda Síocahána and recognise the hard work of the Force on a daily basis in Ireland. 

 Other comments 

In his interview with the Sunday Independent, McGrath also said that he had received complaints about garda breathalysing tests, with people saying they had been breathalysed on the way to picking up children in school or going to Mass. 

“To me, the breathalysing time should be at pub closing time between 12 o’clock and 2am in the morning. That’s where the focus should be, so I don’t know what agenda is going on there,” he said. 

He was speaking after the recent introduction of controversial new drink-driving laws, which see motorists caught driving over the limit get an instant ban. 

The laws were brought in by Transport Minister Shane Ross and proved deeply divisive, with some Independents protesting against them. 

According to the Sunday Independent, McGrath said that gardaí were blaming Ross for the new laws at garda checkpoints. 

“I think they are trying to make a point and they are not happy about it [the laws],” he said. 

“Bewildering”

As well as Flanagan’s criticism, Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan also criticised McGrath.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, O’Donovan said it was “absolutely unbelievable that a Cabinet minister should suggest that the guards are politicised”.

“Finian sits at the Cabinet table and any law that is enacted by the Government is enacted with the support of Cabinet.

To say the guards are politicising their role I find absolutely unbelievable. They are far from politicised. Since the foundation of this State, one thing we have always continued to have is an independent police force.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin also criticised McGrath:

“Astonishing remarks about the Gardaí by @FinianMcGrathTD. He suggests that in an organized way the Gardaí are undermining the Government. An unprecedented charge for a member of Government to make,” he tweeted. 

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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