An Garda Síochána have appealed to the High Court a ruling by the Labour Court which found that the current Garda age limit of 35 for new job applicants is discriminatory on the grounds of age.
In a written Dail reply to Catherine Murphy TD (Social Democrat), the Minister of Justice, Simon Harris TD (FG) has confirmed that the recent Labour Court ruling has been appealed.
The move to appeal to the High Court follows Dept of Justice officials consulting with personnel at the Attorney General’s Office, Garda management and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office on the matter.
The Labour Court made the determination after ordering the Gardai to pay out €25,400 compensation – or €12,700 each – to unsuccessful job applicants, Ronald Boyle and Brian Fitzpatrick after finding that An Garda Síochána discriminated against the two on age grounds.
The Labour Court has made the ruling despite Garda Commissioner Drew Harris telling the court that the age cap of 35 for new entrants for An Garda Síochána “is essential”.
Commissioner Harris was the main Garda witness over four days of a Labour Court hearing into the two cases.
In the ruling, deputy chairwoman at the Labour Court, Louise O’Donnell has stated that the court finds the age limit of 35 “is not appropriate or necessary”.
A spokesman for An Garda Síochána declined to comment as the case remains before the courts.
Deputy Murphy stated that the Labour Court has made a determination on the age entry matter and now the Commissioner and the Minister want to bring this to the High Court for Judicial Review.
The deputy stated: “I have concerns in relation to future recruitment campaigns commencing given this case hanging over the police service here, especially at a time when it is already admitted that An Garda Síochána are having a recruitment crisis.”
Labour Court ruling
In the Labour Court ruling, Ms O’Donnell stated that the Court determined that the maximum age of 35 for recruitment to An Garda Síochána as provided for in 1998 Regulations “does not constitute a genuine and occupational requirement”.
The Court further determined that the maximum age of 35 for recruitment to An Garda Síochána “is not objectively justified”.
Ms O’Donnell stated that the court found that An Garda Síochána have failed to establish a correlation between the requirement of a high fitness level and the requirement to exclusively recruit under the age of 35.
Mr Boyle applied to join the Gardai aged 48 in 2005, but his application was not processed as he was advised by Public Appointments Service (PAS) that he did not meet the eligibility requirements as the age limit for new entrants is 35. Mr Fitzpatrick was 37 when his job application was not advanced.
Mr Boyle told the Labour Court that he was then and still is physically fit and that one of his jobs is as a swimming instructor.
Mr Boyle stated that it was a lifelong ambition to be a garda and he was aware that he would only get a reduced pension, but that fact did not bother him.
At hearing, four expert witnesses gave evidence on behalf of both men. Both were represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and in 2020, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found in their favour ordering compensation of €12,700 in each case.
The rulings by the WRC were appealed by An Garda Síochána and the Minister for Justice to the Labour Court.
The WRC rulings were vigorously contested on appeal by An Garda Síochána at the Labour Court who called Commissioner Drew Harris and 10 others to give evidence on behalf of the force.
Commissioner Harris told the Labour Court that he believed that an age cap of 35 for An Garda Síochána “is essential”.
He pointed out that Ireland is unique in European policing as it is a unitary police service which includes responsibility for national security, counterterrorism and major crime investigation.
Commissioner Harris said that he believed the age cap was an appropriate way of ensuring the reliance of the force.
The Commissioner stated that the cap has proven its value through organisation resilience.
The Commissioner stated that in coming to the conclusion that the age cap of 35 was required he had considered his responsibility to deliver a service that had the operational resilience to protect the people of Ireland.
Commissioner Harris stated that having a cap of age 35 with a mandatory retirement age of 60 gives the prospect of a minimum of 25 years’ service and the potential for the person to achieve nearly full pension as 30 years is required for full pension.
In his evidence, Commissioner Harris highlighted a number of the functions which he indicated would require a high level of physical ability and physical agility.
He said that members require the stamina to be as alert at the end of the shift as they are at the start of the shift.
Commissioner Harris accepted that currently there is no process for requiring Gardai to maintain fitness post attestation.
He said that the financial cost of testing staff post attestation is huge and includes the cost of lost hours, cost of the test, and backfilling of staff. Commissioner Harris stated that the cost of loss of days alone would cost €2.9 million.