Garda told to get overtime spending ‘back under control’

Department of Public Expenditure believes overspend reached €1m per week at end 2017

News of the deep levels of concern about Garda overtime comes after it emerged that funding for some of the Garda’s armed units was at risk. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

News of the deep levels of concern about Garda overtime comes after it emerged that funding for some of the Garda’s armed units was at risk. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Garda overtime spending is out of control and must be tackled immediately, the Government believes.

Documents obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act show the Department of Public Expenditure believes overspending on Garda overtime reached around €1 million per week recently.

More than €130 million was spent on Garda overtime in 2017, compared with €91 million in 2016.

And officials are pressing senior Garda management to bring overtime “back under control” this year.

News of the deep levels of concern about Garda overtime comes after it emerged that funding for some of the Garda’s armed units was at risk.

Two new special policing operations to tackle armed gangs and terrorism have been a major drain on the overtime budget.

A pay deal struck in November 2016 to avert a Garda strike included small additional overtime payments to all gardaí, sergeants and inspectors, putting pressure on the overtime budget.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and Garda Representative Association (GRA) said as long as Garda numbers remained low, spending on overtime was essential.

Last October the then secretary general of the Department of Justice Noel Waters assured his counterpart at the Department of Public Expenditure, Robert Watt, that efforts were being made to control Garda overtime.

“An Garda Síochána fully accepts the need for further measures to be taken immediately to manage overtime within the available budget in 2018,” Mr Waters told Mr Watt.

Urgent tone

Correspondence between officials at the Department of Public Spending and the Department of Justice, Eoin Dormer and Seamus Clifford, struck a more urgent tone one month later.

“There has been no clear yield as of yet from any remedial measures identified by Garda management to bring overtime spending back under control,” Mr Dormer told Mr Clifford.

In an email dated November 1st, Mr Dormer added the need to reign in Garda overtime was urgent.

It “cannot be the case” cuts occurred at the beginning of 2018, he insisted.

He added that if overtime spending was “kept within profile” in November and December, €8 million-€9 million could be saved.

That means the Department of Public Expenditure believed the Garda overspend on overtime had reached €1 million per week towards the end of last year.

Some four weeks after the correspondence was sent, the Garda overtime budget for 2017 was exhausted. Overtime was then cancelled at no notice for almost one week in the final days of November.

It only resumed for the final four-week roster period of 2017 in December because any overtime worked during that period was paid for out of the Garda’s 2018 budget.

While the correspondence released under Freedom of Information Act dates from last October to December, it clearly refers to the pressing need to reduce Garda overtime in 2018.

Aggressive approach

There are signs that a more aggressive approach is now being taken within the Garda in that regard.

It has emerged the Garda’s Armed Support Unit (ASU) and Special Detective Unit (SDU) were coming under pressure to reduce the number of patrols they have been carrying out in Dublin.

The ASU has been very active in Dublin for over a year now as part of Operation Hybrid to police the Kinahan-Hutch feud.

The SDU has formed part of Operation C Port. It was established to increase security at Dublin Port.

Those two operations are expensive and run largely on overtime.

Separately, under the pay deal struck to avert a Garda strike in November 2016, gardaí, sergeants and inspectors are now paid overtime for the 15-minute briefing they receive at the start of their shifts.

And now Garda superintendents are also seeking additional monies. They say they deal struck in November, 2016, created a pay anomaly in which many inspectors are paid up to €6,000 more per year than newly promoted superintendents.

GARDA VIEW: ONLY WINNERS WILL BE CRIMINALS

Spending on Garda overtime is a legacy of the Government’s failure to recruit more Garda members, the Association of Sergeants and Inspectors and the Garda Representative Association have said.

AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham said Garda numbers had been depleted during the recruitment freeze.

And much of the accelerated recruitment now under way was being offset by a high rate of retirement. Because of that, spending on overtime was required to maintain a professional policing service.

“The only way you’re going to see increased resourcing in An Garda Síochána is through a civilianisation plan; where there’s a plan in place to recruit 3,000 more civilians by 2021,” she said.

However, she said, that plan was stalled because “nobody has identified” what positions currently filled by sworn members of the Garda could be filled with civilians.

She also pointed out a detailed business case and risk assessment was required before overtime was sanctioned within the Garda. The controls were tight, meaning all the spending was justified.

GRA spokesman John O’Keefe said the need for overtime arose because of staff shortages in the Garda.

“Unilateral and ad hoc withdrawal of overtime does no one in this jurisdiction any favours – except criminals,” he said.

“The fact that overtime spend has increased is an admission that we simply do not have enough police officers on the ground.

“Bring the force’s number’s up to the level required for a country of this size, and overtime will soon appear as an item of acceptable – not excessive – policing spend.

“To effectively police we need at least 17,000 police officers in this country, yet we are still only above 13,000.”