Garda pens open letter to commissioner over resources

GRA member says he doesn’t know how young gardaí survive on the current pay

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan should be pressing for further resources, according to a garda. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan should be pressing for further resources, according to a garda. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Gardaí often sleep in their cars overnight as they can’t afford the journey home and back to work the following morning, according to Garda Representative Association (GRA) member Ian Lester who has penned on open letter to Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan about the lack of resources.

The Cork-based garda has urged other members of the force to speak openly about the lack of resources and poor pay.

“Young guards stationed in Dublin but who are living in Kildare and Gorey can’t afford to go home after a shift and they sleep in the station or car, because they can’t afford the forty quid to go home,” he said.

“I don’t know how young guards who are straight out of the wrapper survive on the pay. It is impossible for them to get a mortgage. I am not a big believer in people who say it is a vocation. You should be paid adequately for your work.”

Garda Lester, who joined the force in 1995, said he was willing to speak publicly about lack of resources because he didn’t want to be a “keyboard warrior”.

“This is not a personal issue with the Garda Commissioner. Manpower is the biggest frustration. On any given shift we have 20 per cent fewer people than five years ago. I don’t want to go on strike but if a serious crime happens it is at the Government’s door.”

The Bishopstown based garda told the Irish Times that members of the force are stretched to their limits physically, emotionally and financially.

“Everything we got is now gone. It was all taken back. Every deal we have signed has been ripped up. Our members are not putting up with it anymore.”

Garda Lester emphasises that he loves his job. However, he has never seen morale so low.

“I have never seen morale so bad. What is incredible is if you have a guard starting off with a wife and family and a mortgage they automatically qualify for supplementary benefit,” he said.

“They will actually qualify for social welfare because they are not earning enough money to survive. That is lunacy. I know a couple of people who have left the guards. One young man in particular all his life he wanted to join the guards. He has two degrees. He worked abroad then joined the guards and within twelve months he said he couldn’t afford it with his wife and kids. And he just left.”

Garda Lester stressed gardaí would support Noirin O’Sullivan 100 per cent if she supported them in return.

“I don’t envy any commissioner because it is a difficult job. They have to be politically astute. They have to be able to deal with the Minister of Justice or the Tánaiste or the Taoiseach. But there should be a disconnect between them,” he said.

“Nóirín O’Sullivan, as our commissioner, she is a member of the Garda Síochána just like me. She should be going to the Minister of the day. That Minister of Justice should be tired of listening to the commissioner. We will support her if she will support us.”

He added that his open letter voiced the sentiments of guards all over the country.

“It is not just representing my view. I am a GRA representative and have been for many years. So I would be in contact with people on the ground. I would urge other guards to speak out. I haven’t done anything wrong in writing the letter. I reckon I can stand over everything in it. There is nothing personal in it. It is just saying what we are all thinking.”

Roles to play

Meanwhile, a retired detective chief superintendent has said both the commissioner and Fianna Fáil have key roles to pay in the restoration of Garda pay.

John O’Brien told the Today with Sean O’Rourke Show it is important the commissioner be seen as an advocate for pay restoration.

“She has key role, it is important she is seen as an advocate for pay restoration for her Garda force,” he said. “It is important that she is not - as was a previous commissioner in 98 - a spectator to the drama unfolding before her.”

He said: “She also needs to be abundantly clear to the gardaí and to the community, that going on strike, no matter how laudable the issue, is beyond the Rubicon. It’s beyond the line.

“She clearly needs to take a strong view in being an advocate for the Garda Síochana in terms of resources, and this is about pay which is a resource.”

Mr O’Brien also said that Fianna Fáil, under the confidence and supply arrangements, “has an enormous role to play in moving the political agenda towards resolution and there’s plenty of time to get involved in the talking process”.

“Because ultimately this has to be solved by compromise by both sides.”

He warned that if the strike goes ahead it could have serious implications for the public: “The very simple equation is, the absence of police or gardaí on the streets of towns in the country is a clear opportunity for criminals.”

Garda Lester’s full letter to the commissioner:

Commissioner,

I am writing to you to try to give you and insight into how the job of being a Garda really works in the real world in 2016, and how to make a few simple changes to improve the lot of said gardaí - many of them cost neutral, but not all.

I work on the Uniform Regular, but just like Uniform Non Core, Traffic Corps, Detective Branch members of Garda Rank - I have multiples of the workload I had in 2007. I have less colleagues. I have less money. I have more work, more box ticking, more oversight, more pressure, more Chiefs, less Indians - but less training. I have an obsolete uniform, I have antiquated equipment, I have sub-standard vehicles, my job is more dangerous due to all the other problems. I make more decisions on a daily basis than you, any Super or any Chief. I have more and more ways to be the subject of a disciplinary investigation. I am guilty until proven innocent.

I would also like to give you some advice on how to make yourself feel more secure in your own job, and help you actually leave a legacy of how you can leave the job in a better state than you found it.

Firstly, start by telling the truth when asked the next time about the resources available. Telling the truth costs nothing. Every person in the country knows that you are not telling the truth when you say that we have enough resources. You are fooling no-one.

Acknowledge the facts that gardaí are your most important resource.

Stop propagating the myth that there are more gardaí than there are. The truth costs nothing.

Acknowledge that the Reserves serve no real purpose. The truth costs nothing.

Stop going along with the repeated announcements of the same recruitment drives. The truth costs nothing.

Tell the truth about how many people are retiring. The truth costs nothing.

Tell the truth and acknowledge that every member promoted to sergeant is in fact taking members away from frontline policing. The truth costs nothing.

Make investigating and solving crimes (remember that?) the priority again, not box ticking, not “making sure we cover all the bases”.

Stop implementing new policies that tie Sergeants to their desks with incessant returns and Pulse monitoring and requiring members to incessantly update their work - whether there’s an update or not.

Acknowledge that new gardaí are not being paid a living wage. The truth costs nothing.

Acknowledge that the poor pay of gardaí on the frontline does make them vulnerable.

Actually hand over promotions to the Policing Authority. Acknowledge that the system is broken. The truth costs nothing.

Acknowledge that morale among members is bad, as bad as it’s ever been. The truth costs nothing.

Admit that Smart Policing, TRUST Policy, Leave Your Lights On, Modernisation Program are just buzzwords - and that it is actually the job of whole departments of desk jockeys to come up with them. The truth costs nothing.

Stop listening to Sinn Féin, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Mick Clifford et al. No matter what you say or do, you’ll never please them. You shouldn’t try.

Support the cause that gardaí deserve to have their pay restored. The truth costs nothing.

You are NOT a politician, you are NOT elected. Don’t say that Garda pay isn’t your responsibility. You are a member of An Garda Síochána, just like me. Support me, and I’ll support you.

You are not the most important member of An Garda Síochána. I am. The garda that someone meets in the middle of the night on the side of the road at their accident is. The garda that people report their child missing to is. The member investigating their burglary is. The people in Finglas, Moyross, Knocknaheeny and Ballybeg don’t care who the commissioner is, or the Chief or the Super. They’re no good to them.

Don’t allow yourself to be politicised. People expect politicians to lie, cheat and steal. Perhaps playing politics helped to get you where you are, but it’ll also be the reason you get the sack - unless you make yourself immune to it. Don’t fear that you might lose your job. You don’t need the money, you aren’t saving up to get a deposit for a house. You could be remembered for making a difference to how Ireland is policed, but at the moment your just a figurehead for government policy - and to take the fall when it doesn’t work.

Don’t answer to door late at night to a man in a suit. He’s not calling with your “Employee of the Week” Award.