Garda staff move to defend overtime spending

Comments come ahead of meeting with new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris

The biggest staff associations in An Garda Síochána have moved to stress the importance of overtime in providing a comprehensive policing service.

The comments were made ahead of a meeting on Monday between new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his management team on finances in the force.

A recent report by Garda Headquarters for the Policing Authority said €58 million had been spent on overtime this year, some €15 million over budget.

If that spend continues for the full year, the overspend for 2018 would be close to €30 million. The Government has been very concerned about overtime spending since last year, when it reached €132 million.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said last week the need for very high overtime spending should be negated by the large numbers of new gardaí being recruited.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents more than 10,000 rank and file gardaí, last night said overtime was an essential part of operational police work.

But it added high levels of overtime expenditure reflected how short-staffed the Garda was.

Unique demands

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) called on Mr Harris to share publicly the results of a fact-finding exercise he has commenced to determine if Garda resources were being used effectively.

Agsi warned if overtime was cut, the public needed to be made aware how big the cuts were, where they would be felt and how they would impact policing.

GRA spokesman John O’Keeffe said policing made unique demands on staff and police forces across the world depended on overtime to meet the unique demands of the job.

The GRA believed the Government must now work closely with Mr Harris in devising his first budget, which it said needed to be increased.

“[The Government] must now sit down with Garda management and agree budgets to implement the changes outlined in countless reports,” Mr O’Keefe said.

“[These are] necessary changes that will almost certainly be further highlighted when the Policing Commission’s report is released next week,” he added.

Gangland feud

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has been reviewing the Garda for the past year and was expected next week to issue its report, which will become a blueprint for Garda reform.

In reply to queries, Agsi said the 2018 overtime spend had been pushed higher by the need to police the Kinahan-Hutch gangland feud in Dublin.

The papal visit had also been a major Garda operation necessitating overtime spending, and the visit of US president Donald Trump would be the same.

Agsi also said investigations into serious crimes often required additional hours if results were to be achieved, as did policing the feud, which was unpredictable.

It insisted levels of overtime this year were so high because of the tasks set by senior management for the Garda.

“Senior Garda management need to determine the consequences of cutting the overtime and advise local management so the impact of reduced overtime can be communicated to the public and their expectations managed,” it added.

Mr Harris, who began his five-year term as commissioner last Monday, has said he will not know if more resources were required for the Garda until he examines how existing resources were being used. His meeting with his senior management team in Dublin today forms part of that exercise.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times