Effective reform of the Garda Síochána requires a cautious and incremental approach. A number of ambitious programmes have already crashed and burned because of determined internal obstruction. This time, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has taken advice from the Commission on the Future of Policing and paused recruitment to the Garda Reserve pending a review of regular police services and proposals for reform.
This one-step-at-a-time approach may appear unambitious. But, in view of the militancy of uniformed officers concerning pay and conditions, any perception that Reserve* members were receiving preferential treatment would be inflammatory. If the planned recruitment of gardaí* was to be reduced, so too should Reserve members. After all, the commission had recommended that the redeployment of experienced Garda officers to front-line duties should take precedence over the training and development of a non-sworn Reserve.
With funding extremely tight, the cost of additional recruitment and pay might have jeopardised Harris's operational flexibility
Two years ago, the Garda Inspectorate reported that changes to administrative practices and manpower allocation would free up 1,000 gardaí for front-line services at little or no cost. Minimal reform followed as a number of episodes involving misuse of funds, phantom breath tests and the treatment of Sgt Maurice McCabe convulsed an organisation regarded as top heavy, inefficient, defensive and resistant to change.
Action by Harris in prioritising the appointment of additional sergeants and inspectors to supervisory roles in local stations while redeploying experienced officers to front-line duties will both please and dismay serving members.
With funding extremely tight, the cost of additional recruitment and pay might have jeopardised Harris’s operational flexibility and the extent of the administrative reforms envisaged by the Commission. The strategy appears to be: first deal with reforms involving gardai through the provision of a functioning, community-based service. Only then should the role and status of Reserve members be developed.
* This article was edited on Monday, February 25th, 2019