Garda Commissioner criticised for slow pace of reform

AGSI conference says it is disappointed with Nóirín O’Sullivan’s failure to meet promises

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Ms O’Sullivan’s tenure thus far has been criticised at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) conference.  File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Ms O’Sullivan’s tenure thus far has been criticised at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) conference. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The slow pace of Garda reform under Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has been strongly criticised by a group of sergeants and inspectors.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said that, despite promises to the contrary, changes to policing remain chaotic and are marked by a lack of consultation with, and clear direction to, Garda members.

The Agsi urged Ms O’Sullivan, who was officially appointed last December, to study the management style of Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and to learn from it.

The Agsi said it had been hopeful a new era was beginning when Ms O’Sullivan was appointed commissioner, but it had been left disappointed.

In an address on the second day of the association’s annual conference in Trim, Co Meath, Agsi president Tim Galvin said he was frustrated at the unwillingness of Garda management to listen to the association’s concerns on a variety of issues.

These included the changes to the Garda Act giving more powers to the Garda Ombudsman, as well as the much-criticised new roster systems in the force.

The rosters involve long shift patterns followed by four days off, a system which gardaí claim is disrupting crime investigation and has already been criticised as unworkable by the Garda Inspectorate

The Agsi was also concerned at the lack of clarity around how gardaí injured in work qualify for sick pay, saying Garda members were suffering financial hardship as a result.

Staff confusion

The group said there is confusion over new procedures around appointing sergeants to supervise rank and file gardaí carrying out investigations, with neither rank being informed about whom is supervising whom in some cases.

The Agsi said that its members are being swamped by administrative duties, meaning they have less time to offer hands-on supervision of rank and file gardaí on the streets.

The association also said that there are real concerns that the Tetra radio system used by Garda radios could be adversely impacting its members’ health. It claimed that electromagnetic waves that come from the system may cause heart, blood and bone marrow problems, as well as tumours, depression, memory loss and sleep deprivation.

The group said that, despite all of those concerns, Ms O’Sullivan has not been available to meet with its members and to hear their input on proposed remedies.

In relation to the Tetra system, Mr Galvin said: “You have a responsibility to keep your personnel up to date on the implications of using the equipment . . . I don’t think you are working hard enough in this area.

“Our requests for meetings with the Minister have been willingly accommodated.

“I am sorry to say that within the Garda organisation nothing has really changed. [Ms O’Sullivan was] appointed to the position of Commissioner but we have to say your treatment of this association has in our opinion [been] a disappointment.

“Assurances of engagement and meaningful input appear to be idle words and promises.

“We must insist, Commissioner, that your attitude to this association changes. Don’t treat us like a nuisance because if that is your approach, that will be our attitude.

“Can I suggest you take a leaf out of the Minister’s book? Arrange routine meetings on a quarterly basis. Hear our concerns and listen to our input.”

Media criticism

Agsi general secretary John Redmond said the organisation had been heavily criticised by the media following successive scandals.

While Ms O’Sullivan indicated change was needed, “the pace of change is very slow, and too slow for the public and for us”.

Mr Redmond said that when Ms O’Sullivan addressed the conference last year he felt a new era was starting.

“Unfortunately, that has proven not to be the case. We look forward to the penny dropping with management that we must be treated with respect and accepted as having a legitimacy when it comes to representing [Agsi members].”