Tuesday 17 October 2017

Gardai remain unhappy and may still reject deserved pay deal

Issue of pay is only one in a long list of concerns that rank-and-file officers have countrywide

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Steve Humphreys
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Steve Humphreys
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Gardai, mainly in Dublin, could be making up to €45 an hour overtime on Sundays and bank holidays under the deal hammered out on Thursday night averting strike action, Garda sources say.

The deal has not impressed gardai outside Dublin where far less overtime is available and many gardai in country areas remain in favour of a strike.

And, importantly, the deal does not involve a return to pre-2012 wage levels which was being sought by older GRA and AGSI members who are facing retirement on lower pensions and gratuities than those who left before the cuts. The non-core salary deal overseen by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald should also avoid claims for basic pay increases from other unions in the civil service which one Garda source described as a "win, win for Frances".

Although there was little reference to this older group of gardai in the build-up to Friday, GRA sources say they were prime movers in the strike threat. They remain unhappy and may join rural gardai in a push for a rejection of the deal.

Younger gardai in Dublin are the main group that the government negotiators sought to appease. The withdrawal of their labour could have had a far greater impact than any other sector of the force as they have both more challenging work and also face much higher accommodation costs.

The industrial problems are far from over as Garda management want any pay agreement predicated on acceptance of changes to work practices under Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan's 'Five Year Modernisation Programme'.

This programme primarily involves the introduction of computer technology that has been in use in other police forces for decades. The gardai have two main computer information systems, one being Pulse, a 30-year-old basic database that contains the details of every member of the public who has come to the 'attention' of the gardai. Pulse also contains the names and details of children as it predated the 2001 Children's Act protecting children's identities. Sifting through the Pulse system and removing legally protected data will, in itself, be a major workload which, it is hoped, will not entail large numbers of gardai carrying out clerical work.

The move to 'civilianise' clerical jobs is part of the five-year programme and this could see up to 1,500 gardai reverting to police work from desk duties. There are an estimated 550 clerical jobs being carried out by gardai at Garda headquarters alone.

The Five Year plan seeks to introduce changes and to prevent abuses of crime recording on the Pulse system which was exposed by the Garda Inspectorate. The Inspectorate showed that crimes were regularly 're-categorised' as lessor offences on Pulse.

It is now expected that the IT system known as GISC (Garda Information Systems Centre) which employs 200 civilian staff in Castlebar, Co Mayo, will become the focus for properly computerising the Garda's crime reporting and recording. The Garda Inspectorate found that GISC staff were much better at accurately recording crime than the gardai themselves.

During her visit to the American police chiefs' conference in San Diego last month the Garda Commissioner is also understood to have examined regional communications systems with a view to these being introduced here.

One senior officer pointed out that gardai in country areas rarely need access to national databases as most criminality is local. At present it is very difficult for gardai to uncover patterns of crimes in adjoining counties and divisions. Many rural stations don't even have access to Pulse.

The Government has set aside €200m for computerisation and plans to ensure the system's introduction is not wholly overseen by gardai acting as IT professionals, as happened during the disastrous introduction of Pulse in the 1990s. Costs, mainly from consultancy fees, ballooned and logjams were caused, with rooms in some stations being literally filled to the roof with paper forms during the years of Pulse's introduction.

Garda cars still, generally, don't have on-board computers which have been standard in US and other countries for more than 20 years.

Garda and government sources say the need for modernisation and for an end to industrial unease is becoming urgent. The impact of Brexit on Border policing could become a key issue.

Gardai resources are particularly stretched along the Border. According to a well-placed source, there are occasions when there are only two squad cars in service along the southern stretch of the Border, from Dundalk to Sligo. As policing 'immigration' is one of the gardai's duties it will fall on their shoulders if the Calais issue transfers to the new EU border.

The Border area is already a largely lawless centre of a smuggling industry with a turnover in hundreds of millions of euros, mainly controlled by the South Armagh IRA. Its tobacco wing will grow substantially in coming years as both the Republic and UK maintain the highest cigarette prices in Europe.

Diesel smuggling is the next largest form of income for the Provo overlords. Price and tax fluctuations will ensure that this continues to be a regular if less profitable business than cigarettes which produce a profit of around €1m per container load.

The Provos have also linked up with other 'republican' groups including the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and Dublin criminals in the smuggling and supply of cocaine and other drugs. Garda sources have told the Sunday Independent that the IRA has been involved in drugs smuggling from Spain for years but mainly to supply the British market. It is believed that this was to avoid a direct link to the drugs trade because of the possible negative knock-on effects for its political wing, Sinn Fein.

Now, what remains of the Provisional IRA, the INLA and the Kinahan Cartel are effectively working together and are quite happily supplying the same loyalist paramilitaries who were responsible for the murder and ethnic cleansing of innocent Catholics during the Troubles.

Gardai in the Border area are well aware that one of the suspects in the unsolved murder of their colleague Detective Adrian Donohoe drives a fuel tanker for his uncle, one of Slab Murphy's lieutenants. The suspect, in his mid-twenties, is also a cousin of the man gardai believe is heading the Provos' cocaine business.

The complete absence of gardai along the Border on Friday would be of little consequence to the smugglers who largely go untouched by police on either side of the Border as the PSNI, too, has effectively withdrawn from the Border since the mid-1990s ceasefires.

The organised smugglers, like the drugs gangs in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, are unlikely to cause any particular problem during Garda strikes. Their interest is served by continuing inefficient policing and particularly the inability of the Garda to bring cases to the prosecution stage and secure convictions.

Similarly, road safety and motor tax compliance were also foisted completely on the Garda. Part of this is necessary as policing powers are needed in some traffic matters. But in the UK and elsewhere the job of collecting motor tax is up to the local authority that receives the money. Here this tax collecting was given to the Garda who, it must be said, enthusiastically prosecute around 500,000 drivers a year including those who can't afford motor tax because their incomes have been cut by higher taxes in order to pay off the banks' €70bm debts.

Another issue which is blighting relations between gardai and the section of the public that most needs help is the Garda's role in imposing what are basically environmental and health and safety rules on teenage boys in working-class areas for whom Halloween bonfires are a highlight of the year.

Last year before leaving office the then Labour Party Environment Minister Alan Kelly signed a new law forbidding all unauthorised burning of waste, including autumn leaves, it being decided that all waste burning is causing a climatic catastrophe.

Tasked with enforcing this green law, most of the uniformed gardai on duty in Dublin over the past two months have been engaged in a low-scale war with thousands of teenage boys while they have been collecting wood for bonfires.

Over the past two months tension has risen to breaking point between the Garda and local youths over a traditional issue that could have easily been resolved by council staff.

Sunday Independent

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