Baroness O’Loan ‘appalled’ at Garda referendum intervention

Garda involvement in the same-sex marriage campaign raises unsettling questions


An internationally-respected expert on police accountability has said she was “appalled” to learn of Garda involvement in events pushing a ‘yes’ vote in the coming marriage referendum.

Baroness Nuala O’Loan, who between 2000 and 2007 was the first ombudsman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and who has advised on police accountability in countries as diverse as Canada, India, Brazil, and South Africa, told The Irish Catholic that “The police are supposed to be independent. Trust in them is dependent on that independence. This should not have happened.”

Responding to a recent piece in Garda Review by P.J. Stone, General Secretary of the Garda Representative Association, in which Mr Stone called on Gardaí to vote for marriage redefinition, Baroness O’Loan said: “Gardaí are not appointed to engage in political campaigns. That is what is going on here.”

“How can the public be expected to view them as impartial protectors of the law if they behave in this way,” she asked, adding, “They are representative of the State, and hence must remain apolitical during a referendum, I would argue.”

In his article, Mr Stone attributed to bigotry opposition to a ‘yes’ vote, declared that without marriage redefinition Ireland was not ‘a real republic’, and assured Gardaí committed to campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote of the GRA leadership’s full support.

The article attempted to justify the GRA leadership’s unprecedented intervention by saying “this is the first time we have had the opportunity to recommend equality of our members as constitutional reform”.

Baroness O’Loan rejected this, saying, “Clearly the GRA are engaging in political action here, not representing their member’s interests in matters of welfare and efficiency,” pointing out that under the terms of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the GRA’s role is carefully limited. 

Lobbying for political purposes is not, she said, among the functions of the Garda Síochána.

Human right

It is true that under section 7 of the act, the Garda Síochána has a role in “vindicating the human rights of each individual”, but “there is no human right in law, international or European, to gay marriage”, according to the baroness, who in 2009 chaired a formal investigation into human rights in England and Wales for the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has claimed that same-sex marriage is a human right, but this argument has been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as recently as 2011. 

In Hämäläinen v Finland, the court acknowledged the freedom of member states to establish same-sex marriage as a right within their national boundaries, but ruled that neither article 12 nor article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights imposed any duty on member states to grant same-sex couples access to marriage. 

No mention of this ruling was made in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s recent ‘Policy Statement on Access to Civil Marriage’, which painted same-sex marriage as a human right. 

As The Irish Catholic has shown, the State-funded equality body never considered incorporating any references to this in any drafts of its statement, and it has refused to comment on its omission of the ECtHR’s most recent ruling on the issue.

For one State-funded body to suppress so important a point in advance of a referendum on the issue might be deemed problematic, but some might argue that it pales in comparison to the GRA intervention. 


The problem is less that Gardaí will be expected to be dishonest, but that their role demands they be above suspicion. Many will find it difficult to take seriously Garda supervision of the referendum process when the body tasked with representing the vast majority of Gardaí has a position on the outcome of the poll and individual uniformed Gardaí have been photographed assisting at events supporting that outcome.

Commenting on how the GRA exists on a statutory footing and is funded through the Garda Vote in the State’s annual budget, Baroness O’Loan said: “Since the Gardaí and the GRA are established by statute to carry out specific functions, and are publicly funded, that makes them even more an emanation of the State, under the same obligations I would argue as the State not to intervene in referendums.”