Belfast Telegraph

Shatter recruits row rumbles on

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has warned rank-and-file garda leaders against damaging relations with the Army in a row over recruits.

In a deepening fall-out, Mr Shatter called on the Garda Representative Association (GRA) to reflect on "unfortunate" remarks made during its annual conference. He said: "I'm very conscious there's a very good and close relationship between An Garda Siochana and the Defence Forces. I wouldn't like to see that relationship damaged."

Damien McCarthy, outgoing president of the GRA, which represents more than 11,000 grassroots officers, mocked the minister for recruiting soldiers during a Garda staffing freeze.

"Minister, it is remarkable that you continued to recruit members for the Permanent Defence Forces," he said. "Is Ireland under attack? Is there a war we are about to join? Because we are under attack in the war on crime at home, right here in Ireland."

The remarks were made during a stinging personal attack on Mr Shatter's record in office, in which Mr McCarthy branded him soft on crime and claimed gardai felt betrayed by his shortcomings.

Tensions flared again when Mr Shatter, speaking at the separate Association of Garda Superintendents annual conference, warned against such remarks on the Defence Forces being repeated. He said: "I would hope that the remarks that were made wouldn't be repeated in the future and in a calmer moment there will be some reflection on those remarks."

Mr Shatter added the Garda and Defence Forces had to work together in the interests of the State. But Mr McCarthy insisted he was not denigrating the Army.

"I made specific reference in the context of the war on crime here at home because in the public service there's a moratorium," he said. "But for this morning to make an insinuation that I denigrated members of the Defence Forces in my address, I don't accept that."

Up to 600 vacancies in the Defence Forces are to be filled this year. A Garda recruitment ban has seen numbers in the force drop 800, according to Mr Shatter. Gerard P Smith, president of the Association of Garda Superintendents, urged the minister to prioritise 30 empty superintendent posts.

Mr Shatter said it was important that some key vacancies in the force were filled and that he was in talks with public spending minister Brendan Howlin. "I would be optimistic that we would fill a number of these in the not too distant future," he said.

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