Garda members believe opposition to policing reform plan will grow
Concerned among representative bodies about plan to free gardaí for frontline duties
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris proposes to put an additional 1,800 Garda members on frontline line duties in the next two years. Photograph: Alan Betson
Members of An Garda Síochána expect a ramping up of political opposition to the plans unveiled to reform the force as politicians familiarise themselves with the details in the plan.
It is understood the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which has given a cautious welcome to the plans, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) are concerned about the projections set out for freeing up more gardaí for frontline duties over the next two years.
Neither organisation has commented publicly on their concerns in this area. Both are opting to hold central executive meetings in just over a fortnight’s time before making remarks.
However, members of both associations have privately pointed out that in the past two years some 480 Garda members have been released from deskbound jobs by civilianisation.
Against that background, they say they cannot see how projections put forward by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to have an additional 1,800 Garda members on frontline line duties in the next two years is workable.
“That means an extra 1,800 members over and above what we have now – 1,800 in the next two years versus 480 in the last two years. That seems very ambitious,” said one association official.
Because there is an accelerated recruitment programme under way, they said, the next two years will bring a gain of 800 new gardaí into the force, all of whom will be deployed to frontline duties.
They also pointed out the other 1,000 to be deployed to policing duties over the coming two years will be those displaced from desk jobs by civilianisation; a process they say is gathering pace.
Members of the GRA, which represents rank-and-file gardaí, and of the AGSI, which represents sergeants and inspectors, both said privately they believed the extent of the plan had not yet been understood.
They said they believe when it became clear which Garda divisional headquarters around the country would lose that status when two divisions were amalgamated into one, local opposition would harden.
Others believed too little attention had been given to the plan to appoint inspectors to run many Garda stations, rather than superintendents. The same sources believed when it became clear which Garda stations were set to lose superintendent posts, communities would be unhappy and local TDs would have no choice but to object.
However, Mr Harris has insisted the plan would result in more gardaí on the streets and he believed that was crucial. That view was supported by the Irish Farmers’ Association, which backed his plans.
Meanwhile, former minister for justice Michael McDowell said the reform plan was something he had always envisaged for the Garda but it had effectively been blocked.
“The public-service recruitment embargo and a combination of inertia and internal resistance ensured that the intended civilianisation process halted,” he said.
“That led in turn to the unfortunate administrative cul de sac of the Policing Authority which introduced yet another accountability body in addition to the Minister, the Government, the inspectorate and GSOC.”