Garda groups strongly criticise commissioner’s reform plans

Agsi and GRA do not believe Drew Harris’s plans are based on any firm evidence

Agsi president Antoinette Cunningham  said nobody in her organisation had seen any implementation plan for the new divisional policing model. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Agsi president Antoinette Cunningham said nobody in her organisation had seen any implementation plan for the new divisional policing model. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The biggest Garda staff bodies have for the first time strongly questioned and criticised Garda Commissioner Drew Harris’s plans to reorganise the force.

They have called on him to produce the evidence on which his plans are based, adding they do not believe any such evidence exists.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said the plans to strip divisional headquarter status from some stations raise serious concerns for policing in rural Ireland.

The association, which represents over 11,000 rank and file gardaí, has branded as “disgraceful” the unveiling of Garda station plans via the media on Wednesday.

The Association of the Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said it was “struggling” to see how Mr Harris was going to put 1,800 extra gardaí on the front line in the next 18 months.

The statements by both associations on Thursday, less than 24 hours after Mr Harris unveiled where the 19 new Garda divisions around the country would have their divisional headquarters, represent a significant escalation in the concern expressed by both associations.

The combined strength and influence of the GRA and Agsi is significant in that between them they represent well over 90 per cent of the sworn Garda members in their force.

GRA president Jim Mulligan said Garda Headquarters had on Wednesday, “out of the blue” and with “no consultation”, issued a statement to media which detailed which stations were losing their divisional headquarters status.

“Members are also hugely concerned that the lion’s share of resources will be allocated to HQs. Our fear is that places furthest away will end up under-resourced - particularly isolated rural areas,” he said.

“The commissioner has yet to produce an evidence base for the new policing model he is implementing, despite being called on to do so. We believe no such evidence base or plan exists.”

He added that in those divisions where the operational policing model, now being rolled out by Mr Harris, was underway, the feedback showed IT infrastructure was so bad that gardaí were travelling long distances in cars to deliver “timesheets and other documents”.

“The feedback also shows the plan for managing investigations is failing with frontline gardaí still investigating crimes because detective units are under-staffed,” Mr Mulligan added.

Brexit policing plan

Agsi deputy general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said nobody in her organisation had seen any implementation plan for the new divisional policing model, which will reduced the number of Garda divisions from 28 to 19 and devolve more management power and resources from Dublin to those divisions and the chief superintendents running them.

She said she would be especially concerned that significant changes would be made in Cavan-Monaghan as Brexit approached and amid the campaign of violence against the Quinn Industrial Holdings executives, including Kevin Lunney.

Ms Cunningham added she believed a policing plan for a no-deal Brexit scenario also needed to be produced and shared; her remarks coming a week after Mr Harris said he already had a Brexit policing plan devised.

While she and her colleagues had read the “high level statements” of the Garda Commissioner, they had not seen the detail implementation plan and this was a cause of concern.

“If it does result in increased resourcing, that’s some we would certainly welcome. It’s just that we struggle to see where 1,800 extra police officers can be recruited, trained and dispersed within the gardaí within the next 18 months.”

She questioned if there was a real commitment to fund the resources needed to make Mr Harris’s plans happen, citing new IT systems that were required as well as the recruitment of more civilians, build and upgrade new stations and other facilities.

She was also worried that inspectors would now be called in to take on the role of a superintendent and chief superintendent in those stations where those posts were now being abolished.

The stations that had been divisional headquarters but will no longer enjoy that status are: Roscommon, Sligo and Monaghan towns as well as Navan, Co Meath; Naas, Co Kildare; Bray, Co Wicklow; and Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Kilkenny Garda station had been the divisional headquarters in the Carlow-Kilkenny division which is now being amalgamated with the Waterford division. The Garda station in Waterford city is the new divisional headquarters, meaning Kilkenny no longer enjoys that status.