Minister has major questions to answer
JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter has attempted to put a gloss on his decision to impose "greater efficiencies" on the garda budget for this year.
He acknowledged the extent of the payroll cuts in the budget, as disclosed by the Irish Independent over the past few days, but took a more optimistic view of their impact than does the management of the force.
Mr Shatter dismissed claims by senior officers that the force would need to shed up to 1,500 this year if payroll costs are to stay within budget and with all members fully paid.
If he is accurate in his assessment, how does the minister explain the highly unusual stance adopted by the management in writing to him to warn of the difficulities in trying to implement his unexpected cuts?
The garda top brass were prepared for another year of savings and a reduction in the strength of the force from the current 13,417 to 13,000 by the end of December. But they have been taken aback by the budgetary figures, which, according to their financial advisers, cannot be reached without kicking out up to another 1,000 personnel on a temporary basis.
Is the minister suggesting that the garda authorities were trying to pull a stroke by hyping up the impact of the cuts in a bid to force him to change his mind? Or is he implying that perhaps they are not capable of understanding the figures and have made a mess of their calculations?
It is accepted on all sides that the number leaving the force this year due to retirements, resignations and deaths is likely to be 400-500.
If Mr Shatter is satisfied that this will be sufficient to meet the required target, why is he allowing the gardai to continue with their talks examining the possibility of introducing a three-year career break or increasing the numbers on secondment to other agencies?
His failure to announce a new recruitment campaign also raises questions. It has taken the force a long time to establish the fine training programme in Templemore.
Is he prepared to sacrifice that for a short-term solution of a one-year programme as yet another cash-saving measure?