Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has begun unwinding the emergency policing measures introduced in response to Covid-19 as he believes the force is "starting to emerge" from the pandemic.
He also praised the Garda members who encountered violence at a demonstration on Dublin's Grafton Street last weekend, telling them it was clear the Government and the public supported their actions.
In an internal message to Garda members, Mr Harris said he wanted to "acknowledge the excellent work done in policing the violent protest" as well as "the great fortitude and courage shown by all those" on duty on the day.
“Undoubtedly some individuals in our society are intent on violence and destruction. However, the prompt action taken on the day and subsequently by the investigation team demonstrates that their actions bring consequences,” he said.
“And lastly, and most importantly, we have strong public support illustrated by messages of support from the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Justice, political leaders and the many messages of goodwill from the public including those wishing our injured colleagues a speedy recover.”
His message marked the one year anniversary of the commencement of the Garda pandemic policing operation.
While his remarks about last weekend’s demonstration will be welcomed by gardaí, some of the commissioner’s announcement related to the unwinding of the “emergency” pandemic measures, including 12-hour shifts, which will likely prompt a more mixed response in the force.
The emergency rosters involve Garda members working a pattern of four days on followed by four days off, with all shifts lasting 12 hours. These shift patterns mean Garda members are paid an additional one hour of overtime for every week they work.*
The 12-hour shifts have proven extremely popular within the force as they allow for a concentrated block of working, with some guaranteed overtime, followed by a longer period of days off.”
The shifts were put in place to create capacity to meet the challenges of the pandemic policing operation and to ensure the maximum number of gardaí would be on duty at any time.
A decision had been made by Mr Harris to extend these rosters until at least the end of June, and there is no plan to change that. However, it was widely expected to be extended beyond then as the pandemic continued.
But the commissioner has now confirmed a decision is to be taken next Wednesday at a Garda executive meeting about the emergency rosters and “whether or not the circumstances warrant its extension”. Decisions have already been made to end other emergency measures, he indicated.
Garda members due to retire were last year given the option to extended their service by a year in a bid to keep the numbers in the force as high as possible. Mr Harris has decided these gardaí will not be offered the chance to stay on any longer.
Also last year, probationer gardaí at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary were also passed out, given full powers and deployed on the streets to bolster frontline capacity.
However, Mr Harris has decided these gardaí should now go back to the college to complete the portion of their training they missed out on.
“The probationary periods of some gardaí will be extended to allow the full cycle of training and assessment of probationer gardaí to occur,” he said.
*This article was amended on March 5th, 2021