The National Union of Journalists has expressed concern at a motion to be debated by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors calling for the photographing or filming of gardaí on duty to be made a criminal offence.

Acting General Secretary of the NUJ Séamus Dooley has written to the AGSI saying the move "could have grave implications for the right to freedom of expression."

He added: "It is disturbing that any section would contemplate banning the taking of photographs or recording of public events or assemblies.

"The motion, as I understand it, could also criminalise the taking of photographs of State occasions and the photographing of public buildings such as Leinster House, for example.

"It is in all likelihood incapable of implementation but the ideology behind the proposal raises serious concerns."

The motion before AGSI members at their annual conference is calling for a new criminal offence to be created for photographing or otherwise capturing an image of a garda in exercising their duties without their prior consent.

According to AGSI President Garda Sergeant Antoinette Cunningham some members "have found themselves on placed on some social media sites, their private, domestic lives, home addresses and members of their family have been referred to" in a way that is not connected in any way to the duties that that member was carrying out.

She said: "I think there is a risk element attached to that, I think it’s unfair and I think our membership are anxious that some system would be put in place to protect their private lives while they are doing their duty.”

Sgt Cunningham did say that there is "a justifiable use" of filming gardaí that does not steer into their private or domestic life.

She said gardaí in the course of their work have to be accountable and be open and know they are liable to be videoed and so should be answerable for every action they take.

However, she said that if it veers into private lives, there is "a significant risk attached to that and I don’t think anyone would regard that as being right."

The AGSI has also said it is calling for gardaí to be issued with body-cams.

Minister criticised for failing to attend

Also this afternoon, the Association strongly criticised Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald for failing to attend their conference, which is being held in Co Kerry.

They said they are extremely disappointed that Ms Fitzgerald could not spare just one hour to listen to the concerns of front line supervisors during a time of crisis for gardaí.

A spokesperson for Ms Fitzgerald said the Minister had hoped to attend the conference but this was not possible.

He said she had Cabinet sub-committee meetings this afternoon ahead of tomorrow's Cabinet meeting.

He added that she will be in the Dáil on Wednesday for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin motions on the Garda Commissioner.

Sgt Cunningham said the minister's "excuses" have to be recognised, but the force is in crisis and it would have been timely for her to have attended.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, she said: ""The Minister for Justice is the person with overall responsibility for law and order in the state of Ireland.

"The Garda Síochána is in crisis. I think it would have been timely for her to have been here this afternoon.

"The Dáil is not sitting today and it would have been an opportunity for her to have addressed those frontline members who are so concerned with many aspects of what's going on in the garda organisation."

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AGSI says poll shows public supported strike decision

Meanwhile, the AGSI has claimed there is widespread public support for gardaí having the right to strike and negotiate their own pay and conditions.

The AGSI has published a Red C public attitudes survey that it says shows that contrary to Government claims, over three-quarters of the public support their decision to withdraw their labour last year.

The survey was, however, carried out a week before the emergence of the recent garda scandals over false breath tests and wrongful convictions.

The Association’s annual conference began in Killarney today and is due to hear strong criticism of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan for her recent comments about gardaí at the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

More than 1,000 people were surveyed by Red C with 81% saying gardaí should be allowed negotiate their own pay and conditions, while 51% agreed they should have the right to strike.

99% believe the gardaí have a unique and dangerous role, 81% said there are not enough of them, while 77% believe last year's industrial action had either a positive effect or no effect

The Association says the survey shows how wrong Government minister Leo Varadkar was when he claimed garda strikes would change the public's relationship with force forever.

The AGSI also says its members are very unhappy with the Garda Commissioner's comments at the Oireachtas Justice Committee when she said some members may have dishonestly inputted false breath test figures and that the scandal was at best incompetence, at worst deception.

Commissioner O’Sullivan is due to be challenged about her comments when she arrives in Killarney tomorrow.

AGSI President Garda Sergeant Antoinette Cunningham, has said members will be interested to hear how Commissioner O'Sullivan intends to guide the force through reform.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Sgt Cunningham said unfortunately no one has told the people on the ground what kind of root-and-branch reform will take place, and they will be interested to hear how it will affect them.