Paul Williams: A 'too good to ignore' offer for cash-strapped officers
IF THE Government's incentivised career breaks scheme is a major success it could be disastrous for law enforcement in this country.
Most of the younger gardai have suffered major losses in income as a result of reductions in salary and allowances.
Many are caught – like most other citizens – struggling to pay mortgages on homes in negative equity.
So an offer of a cash lump sum to go off for three years and try another line of work will probably be seen as too good to refuse. Garda sources say that potentially large numbers could opt for the scheme, creating an unprecedented crisis in manpower, which will result in fewer police to patrol our streets.
The incentivised early retirement package for senior ranks in the gardai will add even more pressure.
Practically every senior officer in the country from superintendent rank up is eligible to retire now.
After August, anyone retiring will do so on reduced pension payments and gratuities.
With such an option on the table, a senior garda with five or fewer years to serve will also find it too good to ignore. Half of the current number of chief superintendents and superintendents are expected to leave in the coming months. Six chiefs have recently indicated their intention to retire early.
The combination of both these factors will inevitably create a serious experience deficit, and will also have ramifications for communities who expect a fully functioning and efficient police force.
Senior members of the gardai speak openly about how various controversies – especially the fallout from the row over the whistleblowers and resource cuts – have had a detrimental effect on morale.
"There is a sense among younger members that this is just a job, and there is not the same sense of pride and purpose any more," one veteran said.
"The organisation is in a state of crisis at the moment and public opinion is being undermined. Every member of the gardai is affected by that, which is why an offer of a career break from all this hassle might be a very favourable option," he added.
As the overall garda force continues to decrease in strength, what does it do for the confidence of the vulnerable and elderly living in rural Ireland who need protection?