Drug-testing of gardaí set to progress despite lobby groups' fears

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wants to introduce mandatory drug testing for both sworn Garda members and civilian staff

Senior officers said they believed testing would help detect the small number of gardaí  using drugs. Photograph: Getty images

Senior officers said they believed testing would help detect the small number of gardaí using drugs. Photograph: Getty images

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Mandatory drug testing for Garda members is expected to be in place by the end of the year despite concerns within the force over the exact nature and scale of the regime.

It is understood primary legislation has been readied within the Department of Justice to be enacted when the Dáil resumes after the summer break. Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys could then draw up regulations for the system of mandatory testing.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wants to introduce mandatory drug testing for both sworn Garda members and civilian staff under the new Garda Anti-Corruption Unit.

Issues arose after a formal launch of the testing regime and other new anti-corruption policies at the start of June when it was announced testing would commence six months from that date, meaning a start time at any point after December 1st.

However, both the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents rank-and-file gardaí, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi), which represents middle managers, voiced concerns about the nature of what was planned.

They believe what was set out at the formal launch, or at least the impression given by the media, amounted to a much larger programme of testing each year than they had been led to believe.

They had understood about 5 per cent of the Garda force would be tested each year, with random tests and some targeted testing.

However, they took the view that the way the regime was framed at the launch suggested all gardaí would be tested within six months.

Recruitment

There are fears within the Garda that some members are using drugs, which have heightened in recent years with the recruitment of a record number of sworn officers and civilians.

Senior officers said they believed testing would help detect the small number of Garda members using drugs, which they said was unacceptable within an organisation charged with enforcing the law, using firearms and driving emergency vehicles as part of its daily work.

“If even tiny numbers were taking drugs that would mean they are coming into contact with other drug-users and people selling drugs and maybe developing friendships with them,” said one source. “That leaves them very vulnerable to manipulation and blackmail by criminals, and we can’t let that happen.”

Agsi and the GRA are not objecting in principle to the introduction of testing. However, they have voiced their concerns to senior management and called for full consultation.

Last week Assistant Commissioner Pat Clavin, under whose remit the Anti-Corruption Unit operates, informed the Policing Authority a dispute had emerged. But he said a date for further talks with the associations was being worked on with a view to addressing their concerns.