Garda bodies seek talks over drug testing plan as staff union rejects proposal

AGSI and GRA support concept of testing but seek clarity on how new system will operate

GRA president Frank Thornton said it was “committed to a zero-tolerance policy on drug-taking by any members of the force. Photograph: Frank Miller

GRA president Frank Thornton said it was “committed to a zero-tolerance policy on drug-taking by any members of the force. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The main Garda staff associations have called for a meeting with senior Garda management to clarify how a new system of drug testing within the force will operate.

Separately, Fórsa, the union representing many civilian staff in the Garda, has said it was opposed to the plan and insisted its members could not be tested “without reason and a legal basis for doing so”.

While the Garda Representative Association (GRA), Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) have supported the concept of drug testing, they have some concerns about the way it was announced and are seeking clarity on some finer points.

Confusion has emerged about the drug testing plans, which were first outlined on Tuesday, with AGSI commenting publicly to clarify its position after reports suggested it was opposed to drug testing.

AGSI general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said her association recognised that Garda members must be “above reproach”. However, she was concerned about media reports that stated “all Garda personnel will be drug tested commencing within six months”.

‘Zero-tolerance policy’

She explained that AGSI “understood there would be random drug testing for approximately 5 per cent of the workforce and [also] ‘with cause’ testing”. And she called for Garda management to engage again with the staff associations to consult “on these very important issues”.

GRA president Frank Thornton said it was “committed to a zero-tolerance policy on drug-taking by any members of the force”, who had seen first-hand the damage cause by drugs. But testing had to be “fair, measured and balanced”.

Mr Thornton added his association was not informed an event was taking place on Tuesday unveiling the Garda’s new drug testing policy. He believed it should not be about testing all members of the Garda. And while the GRA would consider both random and “with cause” testing, it wanted meetings with senior Garda management on the issue.

In reply to queries, Garda Headquarters confirmed drug testing would be random and that compliance with the policy “is mandatory for all Garda personnel”. It added there had been “extensive consultations” with Garda staff associations and with staff unions “over a long period time”. Fórsa said it had not been informed of any proposed drug testing process and that it had not agreed to the internal Garda policies on substance abuse.

“Fórsa members in An Garda Síochána are civil servants and, as such, come under the agreed civil service alcohol and drugs misuse policy which, in Fórsa’s view, is the appropriate mechanism to manage the issue of any alleged misuse of drugs in this area.”

Opposition

Fórsa’s comments come against a backdrop of opposition to Government proposals for An Garda Síochána to become a single organisation with a single workforce. It has said under recent published new legislation civilian personnel would lose their status as civil servants, would be “conscripted” into An Garda Síochána, of which they would be “direct employees”.

On Tuesday at a press event in Dublin, some of the first priorities of the Garda’s new Anti-Corruption Bureau were unveiled, including testing for drugs within the Garda force.

The head of the new bureau, Chief Supt Johanna O’Leary, said it was “the intention of An Garda Síochána to introduce drug testing for all Garda personnel”. For existing Garda members or civilian staff, no information was shared suggesting how many tests would be carried out within fixed time frames. However, it was stated that the testing regime would apply to all ranks.

Assistant Commissioner Pat Clavin, who is in charge of governance in the Garda, said senior management had already consulted with the Garda associations on the plans for drug testing and with unions, which represent civilian Garda staff.

It was the Garda’s intention to outsource drug testing, though specific details were still being formulated. Mr Clavin added further consultations and briefings with the staff associations and unions would take place.