In a ruling that has taken 15 years, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has held that the age restriction which prevents over-35s joining the Garda Síochána trainee programme is discriminatory.
The cases were taken by Brian Fitzpatrick and Ronald Boyle, who sought to join the Gardaí between 2005 and 2007. The Gardaí refused to consider their applications under the Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988, which set the upper age limit for entry as a trainee at under 35.
Complaints were taken to the Equality Tribunal (now the WRC) on the basis that the maximum age limit for entry to the Garda Síochána amounted to age discrimination under the Employment Equality Act 1998, which is the national legislation that gives effect to the EU Framework Directive on equal treatment in employment.
The cases were delayed due to the resolution of judicial review proceedings in the superior courts, which resulted in the Supreme Court referring the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The CJEU was asked to rule on whether the WRC as a body tasked with giving effect to EU law had the authority to disapply Irish law that conflicts with existing EU law. The CJEU’s landmark 2018 ruling that that the WRC did hold such power cleared the way for the two men’s cases to proceed.
The cases before the WRC centred on whether the Garda Commissioner could show that the application of an upper age limit in the Regulations was justified as a genuine occupational requirement or on the basis of fulfilling a legitimate employment policy under the relevant EU and national law provisions.
The WRC found that the age limit applied to the two men was not proportionate and was discriminatory. The adjudicator found that the Garda Commissioner had not shown that there would be a significant number of members of gardaí unable to perform physically demanding tasks if this upper age limit did not apply. The Garda Commissioner had also not shown that the maximum recruitment age could be justified on the basis of training requirements or the need for a reasonable period of employment before retirement.
The maximum compensation possible under the equality legislation in force at the time was awarded to each man of €12,700 for “the distress suffered as a result of this discrimination”.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission provided legal representation in these cases.