Garda reform: Commissioner defends his reorganisation plan

Drew Harris rejects claims that rural locations will lose out under the new structure

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has defended his reorganisation plan. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has defended his reorganisation plan. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has defended his plan for the most significant reorganisation of the force since its foundation, saying the time for talking about reform was over.

“We’re at the point of implementation,” he said of the new plans, adding there had been “enough comment”.

It was now “a time for action” and he was “not proposing to wait”. He also dismissed concerns that areas of rural Ireland would see their policing cover reduced, insisting that under his plan the exact opposite would happen - with 1,800 more Garda members deployed to the front line.

This would be achieved by accelerated recruitment of gardaí underway since 2017 and set to continue for the next two years and by also hiring civilian staff to free-up existing Garda members from administrative and other desk-bound duties.

The Association of Garda Superintendents said when a version of a divisional policing model, published on Thursday for the Garda, was tried in the UK it did not work.

It said because the Garda plan involved amalgamating Garda divisions – created 19 divisions from the current 28 – policing resources would be drawn to the busy areas in those larger divisions at the expense of more rural locations.

Mr Harris rejected this, saying his plans were based on great community engagement, higher Garda visibility across the country and the abolition of the “redundant effort” now being wasted by trained gardaí performing administrative tasks.

“No, the exact opposite,” Mr Harris said firmly when asked if rural areas would suffer under his plans.

“We are building up our divisions by taking out administration and reducing bureaucracy. We are going from 124 administrative units [currently across the country] to 19 and that will free up a lot of personnel.

“Secondly, we are [a] growing organisation and we are making a commitment to community policing. So, as I say, it is the exact opposite.”

“The [plans] we are announcing today started way back in 2014, 2015, as part of the modernisation and renewal programme, our own work,” he said.

“There has been a long lead into this now - four or five years,” he said adding “the rubber will hit the road” next Monday on the first part of reforms, involving the reduction of Garda regions from six at present to four into the future.

Following that, the 28 Garda divisions around the country will become 19 autonomous “mini police forces” run by a chief superintendent with four superintendents and teams of specialists garda investigators; for sex crimes, economic crimes and other serious offences, as well as teams of civilians to relieve Garda members of administration tasks.

‘Significant improvements’

The package of reforms was welcomed by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who said it would bring very significant improvements to An Garda Síochána’s structures, processes and services.

“It is designed to reduce bureaucracy and move real power and decision making from Garda headquarters to the chief superintendents leading Garda divisions in the communities they serve. Importantly, it will also result in more frontline leadership positions with sergeants and inspectors on the ground where leadership, supervision and mentoring is crucial”.

There was praise too for the plan from the Policing Authority. In a statement, the authority welcomed the announcement, saying it represents “the most significant change in the Garda Síochána since its inception. It is consistent with the recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate, the Government’s 2016 decision to replace the Garda district model of policing with a functional or divisional mode, and the more recent recommendations from the Commission on the Future of Policing as approved by the Government in December 2018”.

It said the new model “represents clear expression of a vision and direction for the organisation, grounded in the context of its mission, for which the Authority has consistently called”.

The Garda Inspectorate also praised the announcement. Chief Inspector Mark Toland said “rationalising the number of divisions will create significant benefits including an increase in the number of front line resources and a more responsive and consistent approach to the delivery of policing services”.

He said the structural changes were in keeping with recommendations from the inspectorate’s 2015 report on changing policing in Ireland. In addition to more front line resources, the inspectorate said the reorganisation would reduce management and administrative overheads, and provide more operational flexibility.

Green Party justice spokesperson Roderic O’Gorman welcomed the reforms, particularly the fact that each division will have two superintendents for community engagement. “For too long, the community policing units in each division have been understaffed and led at junior levels,” he said.