Gardaí and support staff to be tested for illegal drugs under new law

Measures part of Bill to change operational structure of force in major reform shake-up

The newly formed anti-corruption unit will lead a drive against substance abuse in the force through random drugs test of 5 per cent of gardaí every year

The newly formed anti-corruption unit will lead a drive against substance abuse in the force through random drugs test of 5 per cent of gardaí every year

 

Gardaí and their support staff will be tested for illegal drugs use under legislation introduced in the Dáil this week by Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys.

Members of An Garda Síochána, “as well as trainees, civilian staff, reserve members and applicants” to the force will be tested for illegal substance use.

The measures are part of a Bill to change operational structures in An Garda Síochána. They are also among a range of legislative measures to underpin significant reforms of the force, first announced in 2019.

Ms Humphreys said the amendments on drugs testing were recommended by the Garda Inspectorate in its report - Countering the Threat of Internal Corruption.

The inspectorate believes the changes will bring the force into line with international best practice in the area.

Earlier this year it emerged that the newly formed anti-corruption unit will lead a drive against substance abuse in the force through random drugs test of 5 per cent of gardaí every year.

It will involve about 1,900 individual tests and include trainee gardaí and applicants to the force.

With the introduction of the Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Bill the Minister confirmed that civilian support staff and reserve gardaí will also be tested.

The legislation also gives legal effect to changes in operational structures including the reduction in the number of Garda regions from six to four while the number of divisions will be cut from 28 to 19.

This “will allow for specialisation, which means that services can be more effective”, Ms Humphreys said.

The main aim of the structural changes is “to provide more frontline gardaí, increased Garda visibility and a wider range of policing services for local communities”, the Minister added.

The changes will “enhance the investigation of crime through the delivery of a greater range of specialised services in local areas, such as the investigation of sexual crime, domestic violence, cybercrime and economic crime”.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny pointed to the changes for superintendents who would no longer have geographical areas to look after, but “particular sets of duties. It will be like a division of job descriptions rather than territories.”

The Sligo-Leitrim TD said it is important for the community to feel a connection with the police but “that is not the case in many rural areas”.

“There is a sense of disjointedness and of local gardaí not being as connected as they were in the past” and “we must ensure there are units in each area concerned with connecting and dealing with people”.

In most cases “gardaí are divided into units of expertise, for example, drugs squads, serious crime units and roads policing”, he said.

“If we are to crack the problem we have in many areas and relieve communities that have been blighted by serious crime, we will have to get gardaí on the ground who are part of those communities and designated as community police.”

Labour justice spokesman Brendan Howlin questioned the inclusion of immigration in the crime function area, when he believed it should be in with community engagement.

He said “it indicates a mindset I do not think is particularly positive. The whole issue of immigration should not be a matter of saying these people are potential criminals to be vetted but rather that they are part of a new community to be integrated.”

The Bill now goes to committee stage.