Fitzgerald needs to stop saying Garda resources not an issue

Analysis: A credible debate on Garda resourcing may have finally begun

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald at a press conference at the Department of Justice on Wednesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald at a press conference at the Department of Justice on Wednesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

 

She probably doesn’t realise it but every time Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald goes in front of the media and insists the Garda is not short of resources, another little bit of the force’s morale dies.

If there is anything worse than being pinned to your collar while trying to police the often mean streets of the Republic, it’s a Minister with access to the media telling the country everything is grand.

These assertions, repeated ad nauseam, completely undermine and disrespect gardaí. They simply do not have enough resources. Everybody knows it.

Fitzgerald needs to stop saying that there is no resourcing issue.

The Minister has also developed a nasty little habit of speaking for Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

“The Garda Commissioner has informed me she has all the resources she needs,” Fitzgerald said after the attack on the Regency Hotel, Drumcondra, last Friday.

And it was not the first time she has spoken for the commissioner.

These utterances completely close down the debate and rob O’Sullivan of the opportunity to speak up; unless, of course, she wants to go head to head with the Minister.

But after the horrible scenes of last week were followed by the murder of soft target Eddie Hutch on Monday night, finally the beginnings of a credible adult discussion broke out.

New armed unit

And with the “nothing to see here” line having been dispensed with by the Government, O’Sullivan was much more forthcoming about the challenges that face the force.

In introducing some honest plain speaking into the equation, she has done a great service to the men and women who work under her command.

“There’s no doubt over the last number of years we have seen significant reductions in both human resources and financial resources,” she said, adding this had been relayed to Fitzgerald at a meeting on Tuesday morning.

“We outlined to her our requirements and the number of people we need in terms of having the capacity and the capability we need to respond to current and emerging threats.

“I’m very satisfied that we can rebuild that capacity and capability. The reality is we cannot do it overnight. It is going to take time.”

Cutbacks

Public Accounts Committee

Several gardaí – from rank and file members to Garda officers – who spoke to The Irish Times said the commissioner and others in the force needed to be freer to speak up.

They pointed out that senior Police Service of Northern Ireland personnel were very forthright in their comments on cuts to policing.

In 2014, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton spoke out in the wake a £51 million budget reduction being unveiled for the force.

“We can’t take this amount of funding out of policing and pretend that people will not feel the impact,” he warned at the time.

“I am not going to pretend that I can deliver the same level of safety and security in this place with cuts of this scale – it is simply not doable.”

O’Sullivan’s comments on Tuesday were not on a par with that. But coming just days after the Minister for Justice issued an assurance on her behalf that the Garda wanted for nothing, the words were quite significant.

Many in the force were pleased to hear them.

And perhaps they will prove the beginning of the end of a dysfunctional debate on policing in the State precisely because the government has always sought to control the force and demanded an embarrassing level of deference from the Garda organisation and its officers.