€36,000 career breaks spark Garda manpower fears
AN Garda Siochana is facing an unprecedented manpower crisis, as thousands of officers are eligible to apply for an incentivised three-year career break worth up to €36,000.
The offer is contained in an internal circular sent to all members of the force on March 7, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, and is open to all junior ranks.
Applicants are being offered an annual payment of €12,000 over the period of the career break, or a lump sum of 75pc of gross pay and allowances up to a maximum of €30,000. The scheme – part of the terms of the Haddington Road agreement – must commence by February of next year. But senior officers have told the Irish Independent that the scheme is potentially "catastrophic".
They have predicted that large numbers of rank-and-file gardai who are experiencing financial difficulties are likely to take up the offer as they will be free to take up other forms of work.
They predict that it will result in an unprecedented manpower crisis next year in the organisation, dragging the strength of the force way below the current number of 13,000. The predicted brain drain will negate the recruitment this year of 300 more gardai.
The problem will be further compounded by an expected exodus of senior gardai before August as part of the Government's policy of reducing public service numbers.
Practically all officers from superintendent rank up, with 30 years' service, can retire by then.
Last year, 1,400 gardai of all ranks were eligible to leave early. Officers retiring after August will see their pension payments and gratuities significantly reduced.
One senior officer described the moves to reduce numbers as "ludicrous" and one of "grave concern" which would have "potentially catastrophic" implications.
A circular entitled 'Incentivised Career Break Scheme for members of An Garda Siochana, 2014' was sent by the force's head of human resources, Assistant Commissioner Fintan Fanning to all gardai earlier this month.
The purpose of the career breaks can include family and domestic reasons, foreign travel, further education or employment that does not conflict with garda disciplinary regulations.
It emphasises that the career break "must be taken for three continuous years" and is open to all members who have completed 12 months' continuous service after qualifying as police officers.
Applicants have until May 31 to apply for the scheme and the career breaks must commence before February 28 next year.
One officer told the Irish Independent: "The Government has made this career break scheme very attractive for a younger garda who may find him or herself in financial difficulties at present.
"The number of gardai in the force has now dipped below 13,000 and it is going to fall a lot further this year."
According to the source the incentivised retirement scheme will also create a critical experience deficit in the gardai.
"The gardai are being squeezed now at the top and the bottom and the public will begin to notice the difference over the coming years," the senior officer said.
"The level of police service, already reduced due to austerity, will be greatly reduced.
"This is a really serious situation and there is no doubt it will create a crisis," the source added.
Divisional and district officers can make recommendations on whether to grant or refuse a career break under the terms of the directive.
The directive states that officers involved in specialised or "hard-to-replace skills or competencies" or in areas where "high work demands are expected" may be refused.
Applications can also be refused "if the overall size and/or structure of the unit, section or team and the challenge of distributing or re-allocating the work/ duties of the member".
Decisions on applications from gardai who are subject to disciplinary procedures will be deferred until the issue is resolved.
But senior garda managers say that the scheme will create confusion and division among the rank and file.
"It will be very difficult, despite the best wishes in the world, to turn down an application and it will cause serious division in a unit where say one member is successful in applying and the other is refused," a senior officer said.
Meanwhile, up to 300 recruits will begin training at the Garda College before the end of the year – the first since recruitment stopped in 2009.
Members of An Garda Siochana can retire once they reach the age of 50 and have 30 years' service. Members must retire on compulsory grounds by the age of 60.
On retirement after 30 years a garda on a salary of €52,822 is entitled to a tax-free lump sum of €79,233, and an annual pension of €26,411.