O’Sullivan hardly in position to criticise impact of cuts
It is time a Garda Authority is appointed to separate politics from policing
Gardai during their graduation ceremony at the Garda College,Templemore. There is no sign of the promised new recruits entering the Garda College this summer. About 300 will be needed to simply maintain numbers at their current levels. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/Irish Times
The position of Garda commissioner is due to be advertised externally for the first time, and acting commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan must beat off a field of international and domestic candidates if she is to secure the post on a permanent footing.
She will likely remain on as acting commissioner for a number of months and possibly into early next year. She must steady the ship and avoid fresh scandal or any public gaffes if she is to remain a strong runner in the race.
Against that background, it is perhaps not surprising that, when asked at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday if the steep fall in Garda numbers in recent years had impacted policing, she insisted everything was fine.
Senior Garda officers are conservative animals at the best of times. In her current position, it is not surprising that she passed up the opportunity to set out unvarnished the impact of cutbacks in policing and put the Government’s commitment to policing on the ropes at a time when her future is in the hands of those same politicians.
However if the Republic had a functioning system of Garda promotions, where senior officers were not afraid to speak out for fear of their advancement being blocked, there would have been no shortage of detail she could have outlined. It is undoubted that policing is suffering for lack of resources. The most immediate issue is plummeting manpower, with numbers having fallen from about 14,500 just a few years ago to below 13,000 at present.
There is no sign of the promised new recruits entering the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, this summer. About 300 will be needed to simply maintain numbers at their current levels.
The number of vacancies across the whole of the Garda force is also very significant. However, it is below the level of superintendent, where, when one examines those ranks that hands-on run policing in Ireland, that the vacancies problems are laid bare.
For example, there should be 166 superintendents, but there are 19 vacancies. At inspector rank there are 37 vacancies in the 300 posts that exist. The situation at sergeant level – the middle managers who supervise and mentor young gardaí – is even worse, with 168 vacancies.
In the recent Guerin report into allegations of malpractice in Cavan-Monaghan, the issue of the lack of supervision of young gardaí cropped up several times as being at the centre of investigations that went wrong and of victims’ right to justice being a casualty.
Just yesterday, the same meeting of the Public Accounts Committee where O’Sullivan spoke was told the €4 million set aside for Garda vehicles this year was 60 per cent short of the €10 million needed to replace the 400 vehicles that must be taken out of service in 2014 because they are too old or their mileage is too high.
In some areas, many of them large sprawling parts of Dublin with serious social problems, there is often just one or two Garda vehicles available to deal with all of the calls that might come in during a night shift.
Firearms training has collapsed, with the Garda now having no firing range on which to practise and more than 100 Garda stations have been closed as part of a consolidation of policing.
Specialist units investigating some of the most serious crime reported to gardaí have been unable for lack of resources to investigate, for example, the sheer volume of white-collar allegations or examine properly and speedily items such as computers containing images of child sex abuse.
If the Government gets it right this time and appoints a Garda Authority to separate politics from policing, it is all of these issues that senior gardaí might feel free in time to speak about in the public and we may finally get a real debate on policing.