McDowell promised no Garda Reserve without a 'national emergency'

The GRA has revealed it was reassured by Michael McDowell that a Garda Reserve would only be introduced in case of a 'national emergency'. The Minister denies this. By Frank Connolly

Minister for Justice McDowell assured the Garda Representative Association (GRA) in 2003 that the proposed Garda Reserve would only be introduced in the context of a "national emergency", according to the GRA. The Minister's office has denied this.

The GRA told Village that the Minister assured its general secretary, PJ Stone, the assistant general secretary, John Healy, and former president, the late Michael Kirby, that the idea of a Garda reserve was contained in "enabling legislation" which would only be introduced in an emergency when initial discussions on a reserve force took place.

The GRA said it had "accepted his word for it [that a Garda reserve would only be introduced in the case of a national emergency] and did not go into any detail on the nature of any such emergency. We didn't know whether he was talking about a snowstorm or a tsunami or something else."

"Michael McDowell also said that the reserve would not be coming in the lifetime of this government or as long as he was Minister for Justice."

The GRA said there were bigger issues for the Association at that time. "The reserve was a very small issue at the time."

A spokesperson for the Minister told Village there "was never any question of the reserve being introduced in the context of an emergency in the Minister's discussion with the GRA."

The Minister has accepted he told the GRA that the reserve force would not be introduced in the lifetime of the current government or while he was responsible for justice and law reform.

During Dáil exchanges on the subject in March 2006, the Minister agreed that he had told the GRA that the reserve would not be introduced during the lifetime of the current Government: "In the course of that conversation I said to them [GRA] that I did not envisage introducing the Garda reserve in the course of the lifetime of this Government. The reason I did so was because on the publication of the Garda Bill there was no indication at that time of the Government's agreement to expand the force to 14,000 because of the embargo that was in place... I told them... I was not in a position at that time to deliver the extra strength to An Garda Síochána because of the freeze on Government recruitment and, therefore, at that stage I did not envisage being in a position during the lifetime of the Government to bring forward the proposals for a reserve."

According to the GRA, the delegation was satisfied by the Minister's assurances that the reserve force would not be introduced in the lifetime of the current Dáil.

When he was reminded by PJ Stone of these assurances during the past 12 months, the Minister indicated that there had been difficulties in obtaining sufficient funds from the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, for the initiative but that the current Minister, Brian Cowen, was far more receptive to releasing the necessary resources.

Asked by Village why the Minister's reference to an "emergency" had not been previously raised, the GRA said that it was referred to in several press releases over the past few years and most recently in an opinion piece in the Irish Times on 31 March of this year. In that article PJ Stone wrote that the Minister had assured the GRA that the Garda reserve was intended for introduction only in "exceptional circumstances".

In a statement on 2 February last, PJ Stone said the whole issue had been pursued in a duplicitous and deceitful manner. "We were told in our meetings with the Minister in relation to the Garda Bill that the legislation relating to the Garda reserve was enabling legislation only and that it would not be implemented, except in an emergency situation. We were told categorically that it was not something that would be considered during the lifetime of this government and would not be pursued by this current Minister."

The proposal for a reserve continues to generate considerable anger among rank and file gardaí.

"Our view is that it is a gimmick," the GRA said. "The concept is fine and it has worked in other places but only where there are properly resourced police forces. If everything was in order and the Morris recommendations implemented in full, and the issues of proper vests, patrol cars and accommodation were resolved, then we could address the reserve."

He said that the GRA was also concerned that the reserve was intended to as a low cost alternative to proper policing in the light of a possible pensions shortfall for full time members in the coming decades.

Last week, the Minister again met the GRA. According to the GRA, there was little or no progress on a range of issues, including the reserve force, as the delegation could not properly raise its concerns due to constant interruption by Michael McDowell.