Democratic dissent is criticised in a culture that celebrates the whistleblower

February 2014 editorial in the Garda Review:

One year ago today the Garda Representative Association passed a vote of no confidence in the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence. Taking the opportunity to speak to the media with regard to his appearance before the select committee to discuss the revised estimates for the justice vote, he embarked on what can only be described as a bizarre celebration of the  anniversary since the motion was passed. The minister decided to lambaste the Association for being ‘unfairly critical’ of the resources available to the Force – and remarkably – that he could have commenced garda recruitment earlier if the Croke Park II deal had been agreed. Such nonsense.

This is to say, the Association is now portrayed as ‘talking down’ the Force if we dare to show dissent towards the reduction in garda numbers, the removal of patrol cars, the reduction of firearms certificates, the closure of garda stations, the reduced resources available to garda management – and dare we forget – the substantial pay cuts our members have faced from five rounds of pay cuts. If we dare suggest that is will have an impact on the service our members can provide to the public – then we are scaremongering. Morale is not good; but without the necessary evidence to back up his opinion, the minister has repeatedly decreed that garda morale is good.

Garda numbers have reduced by more than 10% since the national recovery plan was announced in 2010 – and this is the definition of a ‘decimation’ of the force. Yet the minister is suggesting that any reference to this decimation by those gardaí who police the country amounts to unnecessary contributing to ‘public alarm’ and making people ‘unnecessarily concerned about the capabilities of the force’. Any version of the truth other than Mr Shatter’s is now deemed ‘unnecessary’. Furthermore, does he do a disservice to the intelligence of the Irish people by suggesting that these reductions to the garda force have had no impact on the service the people can reasonably expect to receive? He underestimates public opinion.

The minister’s assertions suggest we should be silenced from collectively voicing the concerns that stare our members in the face on every shift, and should hereby wave our flags and cheer every operational success reported by the Garda Commissioner. That is not in our constitution. The minister would do well to realise that our role is to represent the views of our membership; and our membership has seen the resources available systematically dismantled around them.

To suggest that dissent from the government view is a disservice to the Force, runs against the political elite’s current vogue of celebrating and protecting the whistleblower. This Association can be proud of speaking out whenever the reality on our streets does not correspond to the official propaganda of the minister and his spin doctors.

We do not entertain the idea that the negotiations surrounding Croke Park II had any influence whatsoever on the recruitment of gardaí. This attempt to further denigrate workers was resisted across the public service, and in its defeat the government accepted that they were asking too much of hard-pressed public servants. To even suggest this explanation for the delay is beyond political expediency and ventures into the realm of unashamed, brass-necked opportunism.

Following the minister’s outburst, we can take heart that this Association is doing its job and whistleblowing on the political bluster that passes itself off as authority.

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

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