Tuesday 21 October 2014

Danger on street and pay cuts 'will force gardai out'

As the search for the killers of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe continues, anger and frustration among rank-and-file members and senior officers at the threats they face and changes in conditions is increasing, writes Jim Cusack

Published 10/02/2013 | 04:00

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

The callous murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, combined with cuts to pay and conditions, has created a perfect storm of anger and discontent among rank-and-file gardai.

Senior Garda sources, normally loath to criticise the job, are now predicting an exodus of senior officers. They also believe that the Government's offer of €15,000 to junior gardai to take a three-year sabbatical will attract serious interest among increasingly disillusioned members of the force.

Understandably, the murder of Det Gda Donohoe has created widespread despondency within the police force but sources say the large numbers of gardai being injured, almost on a daily basis, has been a source of worry and anger especially over the last few years. In short, gardai believe that their work is undervalued by the State.

The last available figures (2010) show that some 800 gardai spent three or more days off work as a result of work-related injury.

The physical dangers of the job is one of the reasons why gardai believe they should not be treated in the same way as other civil servants in relation to public service cuts. They are the ultimate "frontline" workers, they say.

In Dublin, sources pointed to the case of Garda Linda Bury who was pinned under a stolen 4x4 which rammed garda cars during organised violence in south and west Dublin on Halloween 2011. The 16-year-old youth convicted of causing injury to Garda Bury received a three-and-a-half year sentence despite the fact Garda Bury very narrowly escaped death after being struck and then driven over by the stolen vehicle.

The sources also highlighted that it took the near-fatal knife attack on Garda James Hendrick in Raheny, Dublin in July 2005 before the Force was finally issued with anti-stab vests. A Chinese national who was convicted of stabbing Garda Hendrick received a four-year sentence.

An attempt was made to murder Garda Paul Sherlock in north inner Dublin by a local gang who were coming under garda attention in September 2007. Garda Sherlock was off work and on reduced earnings for more than two years afterwards.

Gardai also expressed concern over the fact that almost all compensation claims for loss of earnings, suffering and medical costs are contested by the State and the average High Court claim is now taking up to seven or eight years to conclude.

Gardai pointed to the bomb attack on the home of the parents of Detective Garda Michael Ormond in Clondalkin in November 2011 in which the front of the house was damaged. Bullets in an envelope were posted through the letterbox of another garda's home in west Dublin a year ago. The threat was made to a Ballyfermot-based officer who had targeted a major drugs gang in the area and who had been awarded the Scott Medal bravery award earlier in his career for tackling an armed robber.

Another Dublin detective involved in investigations into major gangs was last year informed of a contract reputedly for €30,000 for his murder. Gardai discovered the threat and tracked down a man who was looking up the detective's home address in the Land Registry Office. The man who was seeking the detective's murder is before the courts on separate charges.

Gardai also point out that theirs is the only section of the public service which has had 13 of its members murdered in the course of their duty in the past 43 years. In all, there are 86 deaths listed on the Garda roll of honour since the foundation of the Force. Detective Garda Donohoe's name will now be added to that list.

Since 1970, 11 gardai – John Morley, Henry Byrne, Dick Fallon, Frank Hand, Seamus Quaid, Mick Reynolds, Patrick Reynolds, Gary Sheehan, Pat Morrissey, Jerry McCabe and Adrian Donohoe have been shot dead by paramilitaries or criminals. Two more officers, Garda Michael Clerkin and Inspector Samuel Donegan, were killed by IRA booby trap bombs.

Generally, gardai say, public order work is becoming more and more stressful as they have to deal with the "normal" reactions of being assaulted, spat at and verbally insulted by drunk and disorderly people. Lenient sentences for people who assault gardai are commonly held to be the cause of the basic lack of respect many individuals show gardai and their uniform.

There is also, they say, the constant threat hanging over their heads of complaints to the Garda Ombudsman and the subsequent freezing effect this has on the careers of young officers in particular. It is now, they say, standard practice for any criminal who is arrested to make a complaint to the Ombudsman. It can take up to two years to clear a complaint and reinstate a garda's good name.

The culmination of the increased violence experienced by gardai and a frustrating lack of resources is causing widespread disillusionment and had a profound impact on morale. Despite regular denials by Garda management and the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, ordinary gardai on the beat say the growing sense of anger is manifesting itself in several ways.

The "almost unanimous" vote at a meeting of 350 gardai in Cork city to support a 'Blue Flu' strike and also of a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Justice and the Garda

Commissioner Martin Callinan on Tuesday evening was taken as solid evidence of feelings within the force.

After the Cork vote, the Garda Representative Association president John Parker said morale was "at an all-time low". He said he was not surprised at the outcome as many young gardai face "the possibility of being unable to pay bills and the threat of losing the family home". Some junior gardai have taken to criticising management on social networking sites.

The withdrawal of the GRA, following that of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), from talks on an extension to the Croke Park agreement is seen as another sign of deepening disillusionment. The GRA said last week it "cannot accept any further reduction in garda pay nor can they accept a reduction in the terms and conditions of their employment".

The debate within the Force is on what form the industrial action should take. There is division over the Cork proposal for a 'Blue Flu' such as that which took place in the mid-Nineties when gardai called in sick en masse and held protest marches in Dublin.

The unofficial strike action backfired on gardai and damaged relations between the Force and the wider community. An option being discussed is the refusal to take work calls on personal mobile phones, which gardai say would cause severe disruption to the organising of rosters.

In the mid-Nineties, the Force managed a limited service because the sick-call strikes were not supported by the sergeants and inspectors and also because the non-attested rookie gardai were told they would be sacked if they called in sick and supported the action. Gardai pointed out last week that with the freeze on recruitment, there are no probationer gardai who can be imposed on to carry on their duties.

At senior level, officers are watching to see if the mooted seven per cent cut in civil service pay is imposed. This, some said last week, will prompt an "exodus" of superintendents and chief superintendents who would then face cuts to their pensions and their lump sum entitlements of a year-and-a-half salary. Almost all the 150 superintendents and all of the 40 chief superintendents have completed the 30-years' service point at which they are entitled to full pensions. If this occurs, senior officers are predicting another major blow to the effectiveness of the force.

Irish Independent

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