Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Vivienne Clarke

An Garda Síochána should be concerned at the level of abuse being pointed at frontline gardaí according to the president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), Brendan O’Connor.

While he said he shared the views of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris when it comes to dealing with anti-immigration protests, Mr O’Connor warned there would come a time when gardaí could not stand back and tolerate the level of abuse being “thrown” at them.

“The Guards have a long tradition of finding the right point in relation to the use of force”, he told Newstalk Breakfast.

Mr O’Connor also welcomed proposals before Cabinet for higher sentences for attacks on gardaí and emergency service workers. “We welcome any acknowledgement or any move towards trying to create some disincentives against assaults on our members.

“We would caution that we don’t believe it’s enough. We have always called for a mandatory custodial sentence for attacks and we have seen in relation to all legislation and all statutes available that the maximum sentence is something that’s very, very rarely applied in any case. So we’ll wait to see if it has any impact. And certainly it’s welcomed that the Government acknowledges the problem, but it’s not what we would have asked for.

“It’s whether it’s applied or not, we’ll have to wait and see. But our experience in relation to any legislation and punishment is that maximum sentence is not a feature of most sentencing. So we would see the logic, I’m told by the Minister that the fact that the standards applied is usually a proportion of the maximum, and we should see that reflected in sentences over time. We’re not sure”.

When asked his opinion on new guidelines for gardaí involved in high speed chases, Mr O’Connor said the current guidelines were not fit for purpose. “What we have is a protocol, a system brought into place which is designed to manage pursuits, but really the foundations aren’t there to underpin the policy document because we don’t have trained drivers, we don’t have the systems in place.

“A lot of what we have is lifted from the UK or multiple jurisdictions where we have live links from technology and cameras and cars, where we have properly trained drivers, where we have quite high-powered police vehicles. So the model really isn’t applicable to the standard of driving available.

“Guards are accountable for their decision-making and we’re also accountable in the eyes of the law. Traffic pursuits are one of the highest risk activities any police officer can become involved in, so certainly the stakes are very high. Guards have to be very acutely aware of their decision-making and their actions”.

Mr O’Connor said there needed to be a better balance between the standards to which gardaí were being held and the obligation to bring offenders to account.

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