GRA welcomes ‘unprecedented’ support shown by commissioner

Garda body welcomes what it says is an acknowledgement the force is short on resources

The largest body representing members of An Garda Síochána has welcomed what it believes is an acknowledgement from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan that the force is short on resources.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) also described as "unprecedented" the support shown by Commissioner Callinan for its suggestion that a new commission be established to examine Garda pay and conditions.

Association general secretary PJ Stone told the closing session of its annual conference in Westport, Co Mayo, today that Commissioner Callinan had listened to its members concerns and appears to understand them clearly.

"The Commissioner has admitted that he doesn't have a budget," Mr Stone said.

“He has now for the first time said he has difficulties finding money. His overtime budget has been curtailed. We are in a very serious place and I think it is important that the public should rally around and ensure that everybody knows the Garda Síochána has to provide the service.”

He added the establishment of an independent process to examine Garda pay and allowances had worked well before – once in the 1970s and 1980s and most recently following the blue flu of 1998 – and the time was now right for another examination.

The GRA believes core pay has been neglected and allowances have been increased. However, with allowances being cut back across the public sector, it believes Garda take home pay is being hit harder than other sectors of the public service precisely because of what it sees as an imbalance between Garda pay and allowances.

It wants an independent commission to examine those issues and make recommendations and says the fact it is not a trade union and so cannot partake in talks on pay underlines the special case that can be made for such a commission for the Garda. Commissioner Callinan yesterday addressed the GRA conference and said he believed existed a good opportunity at present for the establishment of an independent commission.

The GRA represents 11,200 rank and file gardai in a force of 13,400.

“This is not just about pay now,” Mr Stone said of what an independent commission might review.

“We have seen the dismantling of the Garda Síochána brick by brick. The closing of garda stations has, in my view, been a retrograde step. And therefore in the context of a commission we would be dealing with all areas of policing including the entitlement of An Garda Síochána to have a place to go to discuss our pay and our conditions of employment.”

However, while Commissioner Callinan has leant his support to the GRA’s calls for a commission to examine pay, he said he was against the association’s request for a separate and permanent policing authority that would dictate policing policy, as it did in the North and in Great Britain.

The GRA says that because Government is responsible for promotions in the Garda to all ranks from superintendent and higher, there is a perception of Government control of, and interference in, policing in the Republic. It believes an authority would address that. However, Commissioner Callinan said the Garda force was fully independent of politics and an authority was not need.

Mr Stone said he did not agree with Commissioner Callinan's view on the issue but said he believed he gotten a good reception at conference adding his engagement had been constructive. At the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors conference last month, some delegates walked out when Commissioner Callinan began his address and did the same when Minister for Justice Alan Shatter began speaking.

Yesterday delegates did not applaud when Commissioner Callinan ended his address, as is customary. However, he was given a lengthy round of applause at the end of a closed questions and answers session.

Mr Shatter was not invited to the GRA conference after the association took a vote of no confidence in him in recent weeks. The decision not to invite a Minister to a GRA conference is unprecedented.

The conference also heard gardaí in some parts of the country are working from portacabins because proper plans were never put in place when Garda stations were being closed earlier this year and last year.

Delegates heard members of the force could not understand why accommodation was not improved and expanded in those stations that remain open before the near 140 stations that have been closed were taken out of service.

Garda Ultan Sherlock who has moved to Dundrum Garda station after his former base at Stepaside was closed said the Dublin metropolitan east division has lost three stations without proper planning to deal with the logistical impact of so many gardaí being moved around.

“The latest station, Kill O’ The Grange closed last week. This has caused a huge accommodation problem in the division (about which) we’re bewildered and we can’t figure out.”

“Cabinteely station is in a dilapidated condition. Yet there is a portacabin after going in the back to accommodate members from Kill O’The Grange. Dun Laoghaire station which is already overrun is expecting a portacabin in a couple of weeks to alleviate accommodation problems.”

“Dundrum station, while the first part of the project was built the rest is in a dire state. We can’t understand why Stepaside wasn’t kept open until Dundrum was built and proper accommodation for workers in the guards were there.”

Garda Sherlock said he and his colleagues routinely worked shifts at unsocial hours and this underlined the need for basic catering facilities at stations. He said while there had been station closure programmes in other countries, this was done only when facilities were improved in those stations earmarked to accommodate police officers forced by closures to move stations.

The GRA delegates also heard calls for stronger legislation to create a special offence of attacking an emergency or frontline worker such as a garda. The appeal was made by Garda Jeffrey White, based at Kevin St station in Dublin, who was slashed in the face with a broken bottle in 2006 and required 30 stitches to his face.

“I for one consider myself to be lucky; lucky in the sense that I escaped with my life as a result of a violent altercation when I was acting in the course of my duty serving the people of this State,” he told delegates.

“There is not a day goes by that I don’t think about the night I was attacked - the fear, the fright, the risk, the ‘what if’?

“I have suffered like many of my colleagues in that I was the victim of an assault while I was on duty. It should now be a priority that legislation is introduced to provide protection for frontline emergency workers.”

“Perhaps I would be better off working in some nine to five job. But I love my job and I am committed to providing the best possible service to the public I serve. It is now time for action - enough is enough. Legislation is what I want because it’s not sufficient at the moment to protect me.”