Overtime costs and lack of reform threaten Garda budgets

Agreed policy of civilianisation not acted on, leaving officers in ‘back-office duties’

Garda overtime pay, which was cut heavily during the worst of the economic crisis, is now rising significantly again on the back of efforts to tackle gangland crime. File photograph: Getty Images

Garda overtime pay, which was cut heavily during the worst of the economic crisis, is now rising significantly again on the back of efforts to tackle gangland crime. File photograph: Getty Images

 

An Garda Síochána has failed to fulfil commitments to increase the number of civilians it employs, the Department of Public Expenditure has found.

The department’s review of policing investment also finds that Garda overtime pay, which was cut heavily during the worst of the economic crisis, is rising significantly again on the back of efforts to tackle gangland crime and risks becoming “embedded in the system”.

In the last 10 years, the proportion of civilians employed by the Garda has increased by only two percentage points – from 11 per cent to 13 per cent, compared with an international norm of between 20 and 30 per cent. The unwillingness to employ more civilians and a general lack of reform within the Garda will put pressure on budgets in coming years and reduce policing services, according to the report.

The Policing Authority has set Garda Commissioner Noírín O’Sullivan a target of moving 1,500 gardaí out of administrative duties and replacing them with civilians.

Such a move would save €45 million a year, but it would also free up 2.5 million Garda hours every year for frontline duties – a tenth of the number of hours worked by uniformed gardaí annually.

Agreed policy

However, the review has found the Garda has not implemented the agreed policy of civilianisation, unnecessarily leaving uniformed officers in back-office administrative duties. Civilians are cheaper to employ because gardaí are considerably better paid, but also because the cost of Garda pensions is significantly higher, since gardaí are entitled to retire after 30 years’ service.

The report notes the cost of a civilian pension adds 8 per cent to salary costs, but the cost of meeting pension liabilities for gardaí employed before 2013 is an additional 53 per cent of salary.

“Increasing the pace of civilianisation would facilitate efficiencies to fund other Garda priorities (eg recruitment) . . . and would allow An Garda Síochána to increase the volume of policing services it can deliver within a given resourcing footprint,” the report finds.

The report also notes the Policing Authority has questioned the “level of engagement with the idea of civilianisation” in the Garda.

The review also raises questions about the growth of Garda overtime in recent years. It presents data that shows overtime grew steadily until the economic crash, but was curtailed significantly during the period of austerity. However, it began to increase again after 2014.

Technology

“Typically, overtime is regarded internationally as one of the main expenditure headings for police services where efficiencies can be generated using measures such as civilianisation, greater use of technology, reduced attendances at court sittings, tighter budget controls, rosters which match peak demand for policing services with greater policing hours and reduced sick leave,” the report finds.

Overtime amounts to almost 10 per cent of the Garda pay bill. The Government wants to reduce that to the international norm of 4-5 per cent by 2021. However, the trend has been in the opposite direction.

It warns that if the bill is not carefully controlled it can become resilient to reduction.

Overall, expenditure on the Garda is now close to the 2009 peak, the report says.