THE Limerick branch of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said it has sought clarity from garda management on the use of discretion due to fears that gardai will be disciplined or potentially jailed should they exercise discretion when dealing with members of the public.
A Limerick GRA statement sent to this reporter read: “There is a real fear of internal discipline, criminal investigation and potential imprisonment involved. Society has a right to have trust and confidence in their police force. It is they, we serve.”
The group claimed “morale is on the floor” within the Limerick Garda Division, due to an ongoing criminal investigation led by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (GNBCI), into suspicions about how gardai dealt with the public in relation to alleged road traffic incidents.
It comes after Garda Commissioner Drew Harris instructed senior officers last Monday that discretion should be used when policing pubs and restaurants who were serving customers in temporary outdoor seating areas, in breach of the law, despite local authorities giving permission for such areas to be set up.
The Limerick GRA group said that gardaí had “for 99 years, used discretion responsibly, competently without fear or favour”.
It added: “Since November 2019 a criminal investigation has been ongoing relating to what the GRA in Limerick believe is unequivocally related to the use of discretion in minor offences under the Road Traffic Act. Approximately 50 Gardai have been interviewed with the final number expected to be close to 200. This does not take into account, retired Gardai and members of the public.”
“While some media outlets have attempted to link this investigation to another investigation in the South of the country, the GRA believe this is not accurate.”
“We are now directed to use discretion under various other acts of legislation.”
It claimed there is “utter confusion and fear” within the Limerick Garda Division “with members finding themselves in a situation where they are now directed to use discretion in one set of circumstance but not another”.
“Correspondence has been submitted by the GRA in Limerick to our Chief Superintendent seeking urgent clarity on the use of discretion which has been a corner stone of the policing response for almost 100 years.”
An informed Garda source described fear within the force with regard to discretion as “mind numbing”.
Another source argued: “Gardai need to be able to exercise discretion on the job, otherwise you can’t police properly.”
“It’s the cornerstone of policing, you have to bring the public with you, you can’t police with an iron fist.”
“Gardaí are being recorded on mobile phones everyday of the week going about their lawful duties, and they are paranoid that if they apply even the most minor discretion in relation to a member of the public, who they consider to have a reasonable excuse, it might land them in hot water with Garda Headquarters,” they said.
Garda management have been contacted for comment.