The Irish Times view on the Garda reform plan: now for the implementation

Drew Harris has set out his big idea – but history shows that Garda reform plans are easier to draft than to execute

Under a reform plan set out by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Thursday, 1,800 extra gardaí will be posted to frontline policing over the next two years. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Under a reform plan set out by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Thursday, 1,800 extra gardaí will be posted to frontline policing over the next two years. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The public has been promised that a new reform plan for the Garda Síochána will see policing power and decision-making devolved from headquarters in Dublin to the chief superintendents who will run 19 new Garda divisions nationwide.

Under the scheme, set out by Commissioner Drew Harris yesterday, 1,800 extra gardaí are to be posted to frontline policing over the next two years. An additional 75 inspectors and 150 sergeants will be appointed. Chief superintendents around the State will have full power over operational priorities and will be empowered to use resources as they see fit.

Harris has dismissed concerns voiced by the Association of Garda Superintendents that the scale of the new larger divisions will inevitably draw policing resources to the busier centres and away from outlying, mainly rural, areas. That’s a prospect that is likely to be seized on by rural TDs, although the Commissioner says he has the full support of the Government.

It is hard to think of an organ of the State that has launched more new plans, fresh starts, modernisations and renewal programmes than the Garda. Devising those plans has always been easier than executing them.

That this new framework has been launched just 10 days short of the one-year anniversary of Harris’s appointment as commissioner should not be overlooked. This is his plan for reforming the Garda; his big play very deliberately launched before the first of his five years in office expires.

The Commissioner’s impact on the force and policing culture in the Republic will be defined in large part by the progress he makes in executing these big ideas. In the past, blueprints for reform have slipped out of the public consciousness, instead becoming internal Garda documents.

Updates have proved so infrequent and impenetrable that few people, save for those in the force charged with managing them, knew much about them.

If Harris is to achieve his goal of putting the public at the centre of what the Garda does, devising more effective ways to keep them informed about how the organisation is changing is crucial.

He is promising more gardaí on the frontline, more professional crime investigation and bespoke policing plans for every area of the State. It’s a welcome prospect and a huge challenge given the scale of the change envisaged.

The first task of the organisations representing gardaí at all ranks is to act in the best interests of their members. Understandably, that includes defending well defined career progression and maximising promotional opportunities.

Their analysis of change – and concern about it – must be assessed in that light. But the Garda is a public service and, ultimately, Harris will be judged by the public on the basis of their perception of tangible improvements in the service delivered to them.

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