Sunday 28 May 2017

'We feel abandoned by Government' – Gardaí furious after Tanáiste fails to show for conference

  • Frances Fitzgerald 'too busy' to give one hour over next three days
  • AGSI say there is 'serious and dangerous' lack of investment in gardaí

Cathal McMahon and Robin Schiller

Mid-ranking gardaí say they are "bitterly disappointed" after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald claimed she was too busy to attend a conference this week.

President of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) Antoinette Cunningham launched a scathing attack on the Tanaiste accusing her and the government of “abandoning” gardaí

Due to Dáil commitments Ms Fitzgerald was unavailable to attend the AGSI annual delegate conference which opened in Killarney this evening, a point which Ms Cunningham addressed in her opening remarks.

Ms Cunningham acknowledged that policing is in crisis in this country and admitted sergeants and inspectors share the responsibility for this.

But she added: “We in AGSI accept that fact and are 100 per cent committed to internal root and branch reform.

“Yet, today, you as Minister for Justice, and the person with overall responsibility for law and order in Ireland have indicated to us that your schedule is too busy to attend here for one hour over the next three days.

“It is very regrettable that you are not here to inform us of what you are doing to steer us through this crisis, and to address the men and women who are doing their best in difficult circumstances to cope with what is going on.

“Neither did you offer that a representative would attend on your’ behalf. It is no wonder that we feel abandoned by Government.”

Speaking to media this evening Ms Cunningham said the membership are "bitterly disappointed that the Minister for Justice cannot find one hour over three days to address the delegates here".

She explained: "The address by the Minister for Justice carries a lot of weight here each year and we will not have that address this year and I can't offer any further explanation on it."

Ms Cunningham said people will wonder what the priority of this Government is.

"Nothing should be more important to the Minister for Justice at this particular time that how the Garda organisation is run, managed and what's happening operationally.

"I think it would have been an excellent opportunity for her to listen to the voice of people who are involved in frontline policing."

Ms Cunningham also addressed what she described as a “serious and dangerous” lack of investment in many aspects of daily operational work of gardaí.

“For years we as an Association have listened to various Garda Commissioners telling Government they had adequate resources to run the organisation, well I can tell you now, there isn’t.”

She explained that colleagues in Kilkenny and Carlow do not have adequate facilities to download and watch CCTV footage for crime investigations in their stations.

Pointing to a 2013 Report on Frontline Supervision by the Garda Inspectorate Ms Cunningham said it was found that many Sergeants were performing “cumbersome administrative duties, distracting them from supervising in the field”, and that “many young, inexperienced members on the ground were working without adequate supervision”.

“In 2017, I am unhappy to report nothing much has changed. Reports from colleagues In Dublin, Donegal, Carlow, Cork and Baileboro, tell us of stations where there are no Sergeants on some units and Sergeants having to supervise units in different stations where they themselves are not attached to.”

She continued: “There is a serious lack of Supervisory Sergeants, there is out-dated equipment and uniform, there are 24/7 stations who do not have custody suites and members are still resorting, despite organisational policy, to using their own IT equipment to download and examine CCTV. Disgraceful, I know in an organisation that deems itself fit for purpose.”

Earlier in her speech Ms Cunningham accused the Minister of failing to listen to their members in the run up to proposed industrial action last November.

All-out strike action by AGSI and Garda Representative Association (GRA) members was averted at the last minute when the representative bodies and the Department of Justice reached agreement at the Labour Court.

But now, five months on from the unprecedented threatened action, Ms Cunningham said the responsibility for the crisis rests solely with the Government and Ms Fitzgerald “who has failed to listen our members”.

“You, Minister, then accused us of ‘ignoring the wishes of our membership’, but I can now confirm that an internal survey of our membership two weeks ago found that 90pc of them agreed the action taken by AGSI was the correct strategy, seeing as all other avenues had failed.”

Ms Cunningham also addressed the low number of garda members currently in the force. She explained that there currently 12,850 gardaí of all ranks.

She said it will take “at least five years” to achieve a garda force of 15,000  - a high recorded in 2011.

A spokesman for Minister Fitzgerald said: "The Tanaiste very much regrets that, because the pressure of Dail business this week relating, in particular, to Garda matters, she will not be in a position to attend the AGSI conference, which she had very much hoped to attend."

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