Changing of the Guard

pictured: Incoming GRA President Frank Thornton emphasised the need for suitable deployment and supervision of inexperienced members and for the early vaccination of Frontline gardaí during the pandemic.

There was movement at the top of the Garda Representative Association during its first ever Virtual Annual Conference in January 2021

New President and Vice President
The GRA Annual Conference which was held through a virtual platform on Tuesday December 29 2020 and was hosted from the GRA Head Office, included elections for President and Vice President and saw delegates from around the country join remotely. This was the first time the GRA has run a conference online or within a single day and thanks go to the delegates, conference arrangements committee, standing orders committee and staff for their work in making the event a success.

Fifteen motions submitted from the various Divisions were tabled and carried at Conference. The GRA will be bringing these motions to the attention of the relevant committees and reporting back to our next Conference and updating you on progress in the interim.

Our congratulations to Garda Frank Thornton, Limerick Division, who was elected President and to Garda Brendan O’Connor, Donegal Division, who was elected Vice President. Garda Thornton is a frontline Garda based in Roxboro Road Garda Station in Limerick. He has 16 years’ service and has been a GRA Central Executive Committee (CEC) member since 2014.

Speaking shortly after being elected, Garda Thornton expressed concern for the safety and wellbeing of young Gardaí, saying they had significant training and supervision needs.

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

“We should also be aware of the potential mental health effects of policing. 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. This aspect of the dangers of policing is often overlooked, so during my presidency I will be emphasising the need for suitable deployment and supervision of inexperienced members and for the continued improvement to support services,” Garda Thornton said. He has also called for the prioritisation of support for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among frontline officers.

above: Brendan O’Connor, incoming GRA Vice-President, told Annual Conference that members are not being sufficiently consulted about changes to their work and are subject to “unrealistic demands and relentless scrutiny.”

Garda welfare has come to the fore in recent weeks with concerns about the outbreak of Covid-19 among members of the Garda organisation over the past month. Over 1,600 members have self-isolated or cocooned due to the virus, with around 300 infected.
Garda Thornton has called for the early vaccination of Gardaí, saying members should be treated as critical frontline workers. Gardaí were not mentioned in the published Government vaccination rollout plan, but appear to be designated as ‘key workers’. “With plans to vaccinate up to 135,000 people by the end of February, and a month-long lag in full efficacy, it is imperative that frontline Gardaí are given the protection of the vaccine as soon as possible. Early vaccination will reduce the numbers of Gardaí forced to isolate and ensure they remain available to protect communities around the country. It will also fulfil the employer duty of care to our members as working people,” Garda Thornton said.

Vice President, Garda Brendan O’Connor echoed the call for early vaccination highlighting the added risk of policing the new restrictions, which will include visiting people known to be infected or potentially infected. “We never know who or what we will be called to and many of the calls we attend are complaints of non-compliance with Covid guidelines,” Garda O’Connor said.

The new Vice President, Garda Brendan O’Connor was attested to the Force in 1997 and is a frontline Garda attached to Dunfanaghy Garda Station, Co Donegal. Garda O’Connor was elected to the GRA Executive in 2014.
Speaking at the GRA Annual Delegate Conference, Garda O’Connor said that members are not being sufficiently consulted about changes to their work and are subject to “unrealistic demands and relentless scrutiny”. Garda O’Connor said issues such as civilianisation, changes to the Covid-19 roster and the rollout of the Operating Policing Model shows that Garda Management have “little regard” for consultation.
“We are increasingly becoming nothing more than spectators on the side-line, brought in at the very end after decisions are made to give the appearance that representation is respected,” Garda O’Connor said. He also hit out that “an archaic and fundamentally unfair discipline regime is being utilised like never before to instil fear and create a false narrative that wrongdoing is prevalent”.

“Policing is a difficult job and the members we represent are on the receiving end of an endless onslaught of unrealistic demands and relentless scrutiny,” he said.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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