Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has delivered a warning to his mid-ranking officers over taking part in protests which could endanger the force's standing in the community.
Against the backdrop of threatened opposition to proposed cutbacks, Mr Callinan told the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) he was acutely aware of their financial burdens.
But he insisted they were not alone in their suffering, with every other organisation - both public and private - throughout the country needing to do more with fewer resources. "This is the stark reality," he said.
Addressing the Agsi annual conference, Mr Callinan said the force had been faced with a cycle of ever decreasing budgets. But the Garda chief said officers needed to accept there were difficult challenges to overcome.
Agsi has vowed to oppose plans to cut pay, reduce overtime and abolish some allowances, under the Croke Park II deal forged between trade union leaders and the Government. But Mr Callinan warned inspectors and sergeants against any action which would damage their relationship with the people they serve.
He said: "Our communities have now come to expect and rely upon the levels of both professionalism and dedication shown by you and the members you supervise. We must retain that strong commitment to our communities and not embark on a road which would jeopardise that relationship."
Speaking after his address, the commissioner said he was referring particularly to an Agsi circular calling on off-duty members not to report for work if they are called upon. "That's not on as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Mr Callinan also attacked four delegates, from the Carlow/Kilkenny branch, who walked out of the conference during Justice Minister Alan Shatter's address on Monday night, then again when the commissioner got up to speak on Tuesday.
"That shouldn't have happened," he said. "It was inappropriate and I have indicated that to the president of the (Agsi) executive."
Agsi general secretary John Redmond distanced himself from the walk-out, saying it was "a step too far".