It's wrong to force Justice into begging-bowl situation
SINCE the start of the year, it has been obvious that the impact of successive cuts in garda operational budgets has multiplied the difficulties facing senior officers when organising major initiatives.
Overtime is now a dirty word in the garda lexicon and officers trying to round up a large team for dawn swoops on suspects and their haunts are increasingly dependant on personnel from outside their areas or units to complete their line-up because of a shortage of personnel.
This has been evident from large-scale searches in areas in the border counties to operations in the south.
The problems have been more deep-rooted in some of the specialist units, resulting in lengthy delays in tackling serious offences.
The extent of the difficulties confronting the gardai and other agencies tacking white-collar crime came under the microscope last week at a Bar Council biennial conference where senior counsel Remy Farrell said we were living "in a veritable golden age for hucksters and fraudsters of all sorts".
He argued that it was probably easier to get away with white-collar crime right now than it ever had been in the history of the State.
Mr Farrell pointed out that the garda fraud bureau was now so under-resourced that it was now in a position to consider in detail only a small proportion of the offences reported and, of those, the resources existed to pursue investigations in respect of an even smaller proportion.
Even bigger problems face the force's computer crime investigation unit, where a three-year delay was highlighted in one case while a large number of other inquiries have to take their place on a lengthy waiting list.
The difficulties with personnel shortages and inadequate equipment do nothing to improve the morale of a force already battered from the fallout of a series of high- profile controversies and the forced resignation of its previous leader, Martin Callinan, to avert a political showdown at a cabinet meeting.
This morning's disclosure that the force seems likely for the second year in a row to be left to wonder until the late autumn whether their wages will be paid towards the year's end will add to its woes.
Everybody knows that when it comes to the crunch the Government will agree to cough up the extra money in a supplementary budget.
But it shouldn't be necessary for those charged with political responsibility for the force to have to resort to begging bowl tactics to ensure the coffers are adequate.
Like everyone else, the gardai knew they had to endure their share of the financial pain in the past few years.
But the time has come for the Government to prioritise where the available money should be spent and determine if it is serious about tackling issues such as white-collar crime.
Ministers have been lucky so far that despite the depleted resources gardai have been able to keep the lid on high-volume crime such as burglaries and achieve decreases in 11 out of 14 categories.
But that position won't last forever unless a proper investment in the force is authorised.