There are few things more threatening to the perception of a valid democracy than the suggestion that the security forces enter into partisan politics. If, for instance, the armed forces were to take a similar stance, we would be rightly alarmed. However, I do not dispute the right of individual members of such forces to make political representations.
It appears that the GRA missed this topic when it was proceeding, extremely slowly, through both Houses of the Oireachtas, failed to make representations, let the issue slide and is now in a phase of extraordinary overreaction. It is overreacting to something which the overwhelming majority of the population believes is a good idea. It is not just in confrontation with the Government or even with one party within that Government, but with the Oireachtas and the will of the people. It would be a different matter if a proposal related to the Garda Síochána had been passed by the Oireachtas but was disapproved of by the public.
The public are bewildered as to why gardaí have such an objection to the reserve force and are coming to very unflattering conclusions about the motives of those gardaí. If the public were to come to similar conclusions about the actions of a teachers' union, that union would have good reason to be concerned about the public perception of its members.
The GRA should reflect very carefully. If it has legitimate concerns about the safety or vulnerability of its members, they can be addressed. I do not believe any Government wants to put members of the Garda Síochána into a position where they are at risk. However, that is entirely different to saying that the members of the GRA can ignore the wish of the people.
I ask the Leader for a debate on industrial safety in the near future. There was a 50% increase in the number of fatal industrial accidents last year. A disproportionate number of non-nationals were victims of those fatal accidents, particularly in the building industry. That fact lends support to the assertions of the trade union movement that less than noble practices are prevalent in some sections of the building industry with regard to working conditions. The Health and Safety Authority has said that one of the major pressure areas this year will be the public sector, that is, public administration and the local authorities. The HSA has said that up to one quarter of local authorities are blissfully unaware of their obligations under health and safety legislation.
A classic element of this country's problems, whether it be in work, road safety or planning, is that we do not enforce the laws we pass. In the area of safety, we must ensure the public sector is a model of best practice, rather than lagging behind other sectors and that those involved in the building industry are particularly careful. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the report of the Health and Safety Authority because it is an important topic.