Sunday 23 November 2014

€70m hole in Garda budget hits crime fight

Published 07/06/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD
Acting Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Gardai are facing a major financial crisis for the second year in a row, with money to pay wages set to run out this autumn.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will be forced to seek approval for a supplementary budget of up to €70m to shore up the gardai in the fight against crime.

Reduced resources and numbers are already creating operational difficulties for Acting Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan in some areas of the force – with specialist units, in particular, under pressure to cope.

Investigations into white-collar crime and online pornography are being badly hampered by a scarcity of resources.

The pending cash crisis is revealed as it emerged that garda numbers have fallen below 13,000 for the first time – a level described by former commissioner Martin Callinan as a bottom-line figure.

Senior officers have recently had to beg personnel from neighbouring divisions to make up the shortfall for big operations.

The gardai have been left short of money several times in recent years, but this is the first time that the shortfall has represented such a big slice of the overall budget. The deficit is more than 5pc of this year's total funding allocation of €1.34bn.

It is a serious embarrassment to the Government, which only last November had to introduce a supplementary Garda

budget of €51m, although some of that money was found from savings elsewhere in the Justice allocation.

The operational difficulties are particularly acute in the computer crime unit, which deals with a wide range of criminal activity including child abuse and pornography, as well as assaults and murders.

But in some cases there are understood to be delays of up to two years in completing inquiries because of inadequate equipment and shortage of staff.

The garda's national fraud bureau is so under-resourced at the moment, according to prosecution lawyers, that it is unable to provide a detailed consideration of a significant proportion of the offences reported to it. This has resulted in a worrying backlog of cases to be fully investigated.

Legal and financial experts have criticised the perceived lack of government will to tackle white-collar crime. Director of Corporate Enforcement Ian Drennan complained that he had only one accountant in his office when he needed six to handle the growing caseload of criminal investigations.

Despite the cuts, gardai have managed to reduce crime in 11 out of 14 categories, according to the last published independent statistics.

There have also been ongoing successes in the fight against drugs and other organised crime activities, as well as dissident terrorism.

Specialist units are now having to borrow officers from other squads to carry out raids and arrests.

The first intake of around 100 recruits is expected to join the force late next month – this is the only recruitment since the government introduced a moratorium in 2009.

But in the meantime, the strength of the force has fallen from an initial 14,500 to around 12,950 with more due to leave soon.

Garda authorities are pressing ahead with plans for incentivised career breaks for members of the force, and these will result in some small savings, while others are expected to be temporarily redeployed to other agencies, which will also reduce the payroll.

Savings

More savings are also being achieved following the review of garda allowances by the Department of Public Expenditure.

But a shortfall of between €60m and €70m is still expected to remain in the late autumn, necessitating a fresh injection of funding to be authorised by the Government.

Last November, the then minister Alan Shatter had to seek permission for an additional boost of €51m for the garda budget, of which almost €24m came from savings elsewhere in the Justice allocation.

In his defence, he pointed out that almost 90pc of the garda budget was accounted for by payroll and pension costs.

The Department of Justice told the Irish Independent last night that every effort was being made by the garda authorities to ensure that the budget of €1.34bn was spent as efficiently, effectively and economically as possible. This included making maximum use of the flexibilities and savings available under the Haddington Road agreement.

"A comprehensive review of the Garda Siochana is currently under way under the Haddington Road agreement and this review, due later this year, has the potential to identify further efficiencies and savings," the department said.

Irish Independent

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