Union calls on Minister for talks on proposed changes to Garda support staff recruitment

Plans for clerical and other support staff to be directly recruited by An Garda Síochána contained in Bill approved by Cabinet this week

Proposals to change the way An Garda Síochána recruits clerical and other support staff have been criticised by the trade union Fórsa, which represents more than 3,000 civil servants currently working with the force.

On Tuesday, Helen McEntee received support at Cabinet to press ahead with the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, which she said would “build on the achievements of An Garda Síochána and strengthen the organisation for the demands of the coming decades”.

The Bill contains a wide range of changes to the way the force is managed but the union is concerned at the proposals it contains for An Garda Síochána to directly recruit for roles currently performed by civil servants.

The union said the move would cut those staff off from the civil service, severely limiting their promotional opportunities, and potentially subjecting them to more onerous terms of employment. It has called for called for the Minister to discuss the changes with it.

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The Fórsa assistant general secretary with responsibility for the sector, Jim Mitchell, said the union was surprised no engagement took place before the Bill went to Cabinet this week despite its request for a meeting with the Minister.

A key concern, he said, is to obtain clarity regarding existing staff who, he said do not want to become “landlocked” in An Garda Síochána having joined the much wider civil service.

“There is no clarity as to what is going to happen with existing staff,” he said.

“And the reality is that if people wanted to be a garda they would have applied to be a garda. As it is, they are generally very happy to work with the force but it is as part of their wider life cycle around the civil service.

“There are already problems because of these proposed changes. Since November 3rd, we have been notified that Garda management has put a freeze on people transferring out of the service there because they have been having difficulties recruiting new people in.

“That’s because people don’t want to go there now because they don’t want to get stuck there. That’s absolutely not what they are looking for. They are civil servants and they want to remain civil servants, they do not want to become landlocked in An Garda Síochána.”

Announcing Government support for the Bill, which deals extensively with oversight among other issues, Ms McEntee said “empowering the Garda Commissioner to recruit Garda staff directly will enable the different skills and experience of Garda members, and staff to be leveraged to contribute to enhancing the capacity of the organisation to deliver”.

She said: “In the case of existing Garda staff, I want to assure them that there will be engagement with their trade unions before any change in their status takes effect.”

Mr Mitchell said the commitment to engagement was reassuring but expressed surprise the union was not among the stakeholders who were met in advance of the Bill going to Cabinet despite it having conveyed concerns over the changes proposed. He called for immediate talks on the issue.

In response, the Department of Justice said the plan to allow the Garda Commissioner recruit staff directly “is driven by the benefits of a single workforce for An Garda Síochána, as recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing (CoFPI). It will promote and foster the idea of a Garda career for all Garda personnel, members and Garda staff alike”.

“It is important to note that the commencement of the legislation will have no automatic effect on the terms and conditions of existing staff who are civil servants – under the Bill their terms and conditions are fully protected and any change in their civil service status is subject to consultations with their trade unions prior to the Minister making an order altering their status. It is also important to note that garda staff will not come within the remit of the Police Ombudsman until such time as the Ministerial order referred to is made altering the status of existing staff.

“Preliminary dialogue has taken place between the Department, Garda management and staff trade unions in relation to these changes. The Department has offered a meeting to FÓRSA and this invitation remains open.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times