Ms McEntee met the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and Garda Representative Association (GRA) on Wednesday to discuss a range of issues.
“The Minister told both meetings that the commissioner will put forward options tomorrow to move forward on the rosters issue. She hopes that all parties engage constructively and in good faith to reach agreement,” a spokesman for Ms McEntee said.
The rostering issue was raised a number of times in the Dáil on Wednesday on the first day of the new political term. Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney said breathing room was needed to allow the meetings to play out.
Separately, an internal Garda report on roster reform concluded that gardaí should not work shifts of 10 hours or more as doing long days resulted in fatigue that could affect “critical thinking” while on duty and have an impact on high-pressure tasks such as emergency “response driving”.
The unpublished 2019 report notes that “significant numbers” of gardaí working 10-hour shifts at the time were “travelling in excess of an hour” on their commute and “we have a duty of care as this extends their working day to 14 hours or more in cases”.
The 10-hour shifts in place at the time, before a switch to the current 12-hour shifts, were “too long” particularly for frontline gardaí, it said.
The findings of the report on roster reform have emerged at a time when Mr Harris is involved in an entrenched dispute with the GRA on planned roster changes. He wants to end a roster arrangements introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, based on 12-hour shifts, from November 6th and revert to the pre-pandemic rosters system.
The report also sets out a series of shortcomings with the pre-pandemic rosters – known as the Westmanstown roster – which Mr Harris intends to reintroduce. It describes them as inflexible, saying they interrupted the progress of investigations because gardaí had to take four days off after working six days.
The report also found that when the Westmanstown roster was introduced in 2012, it resulted in 20 per cent fewer gardaí being on duty at any one time because it involved five tours of duty rather than four. It also resulted in “overlapping shifts”, which led to “ineffective supervision and management” of the force.
Mr Harris wants to hold talks with the representative groups about moving to completely new rosters, a move described as “urgent” by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland in its report published five years ago.
The GRA is fighting to maintain the pandemic rosters, based on 12-hour shifts, as they are popular with gardaí. Longer shifts – compared with those of eight hours or 10 hours – mean members work an average of six fewer shifts every 60 days.
The 12-hour shifts also mean more of the hours Garda members work are covered by unsocial hours allowances, thus increasing their remuneration.
Mr Harris has said the current 12-hour rosters are “costly” and, because the Garda has to operate within a set budget, funding the pandemic roster was leading to a loss of policing hours. He has put that loss at 60 hours of police work per Garda member every year, or 13,000 per month, which he said was badly needed to bolster street policing.
In reply to queries, Garda headquarters said the roster the force will revert to from November 6th was in place for eight years before the pandemic. It said lengthy talks about completely new rosters took place with the GRA and AGSI, but no agreement was reached. It encouraged both groups to enter talks with Garda management at the Workplace Relations Commission.
GRA general secretary Rory Slevin said it was obvious the Garda did not have the resources to revert back to a system of having five Garda units working rather than four due to a “continued recruitment and retention crisis”.
The GRA, which represents about 11,000 rank-and-file gardaí in a 13,900-strong force, announced that its members had overwhelmingly backed a vote of no confidence in Mr Harris, largely based on the rostering issue.