THE thin line between respecting and regretting the right to protest was played out in the media spotlight after four Kilkenny/Carlow Sergeants - Pat Baldwin (Kilkenny city), Ted Hughes (Thomastown), Joe Hanley (Tullow) and John Foley (Carlow) – staged a double walk out protest during last week’s Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) annual delegate conference.
They were mandated to stage their silent protest ahead of speeches by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter and it was an action that catapulted them to centre stage.
With the spectre of disciplinary action hanging over them, the quartet, accompanied by AGSI chiefs, ventured to Templemore on Thursday for talks with Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning that lasted more than six hours.
No disciplinary penalties were imposed and in a press statement released Friday, it included the following agreed text, “The representatives of the Kilkenny/Carlow Branch regret that this whole matter has been played out on TV and in the public arena. All parties consider the matter now resolved and look forward to continuing to serve the community.”
The Kilkenny/Carlow four also indicated that they meant to cause no offence to the Commissioner and expressed their full confidence in him.
AGSI General Secretary John Redmond stressed it is not AGSI’s policy to support a motion of no confidence in the Garda Commissioner.
Mr Redmond added, “However, we respect their right to protest.”
The AGSI described the threat of displinary action as ‘outrageous’ and duly defended its four members in Templemore.
The staging of a double walk out was unprecedented and highlights the need to tackle the many issues confronting future policing in this country. The fact the quartet were mandated by their branch colleagues illustrates further the depth of frustration in the force.
On reflection, it may have been a poor judgement call by Kilkenny/Carlow AGSI branch members to mandate their delegates to walk out on the Commissioner. Failing to publicly endorse one’s boss isn’t a wise move at any time. They’ve since expressed regret even though the AGSI respected their right to protest.
Not surprisingly, the same sentiment of regret wasn’t extended to Minister Shatter. His cabinet colleague Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was also heckled during his address to the INTO conference in Cork. He is due to speak at the ASTI conference in Wexford where another frosty reception is likely.