Thursday 27 October 2016

Let the gardai return to policing and not to managing a business

Garda rules forbid any serving member from publicly criticising the force - but after the funeral of Garda Tony Golden, one officer came forward. We will not publish his name, but we will publish his heart-felt cry for change

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

THE FUNERAL OF GARDA TONY GOLDEN: ‘Tony’s death, as with the death of other colleagues in recent years, sparks emotions of shock, grief, reflection and inevitably anger.’
THE FUNERAL OF GARDA TONY GOLDEN: ‘Tony’s death, as with the death of other colleagues in recent years, sparks emotions of shock, grief, reflection and inevitably anger.’

The term 'Garda family' is one we have heard since of the funeral of Garda Tony Golden. It is an apt analogy for the bond between members of An Garda Siochana.

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There is something about a death within a family that makes people reflect about where they are within the life journey of that family and within the journey of life generally.

I am a member of An Garda Siochana in the latter part of my service. News of the death of my colleague Garda Tony Golden hit me hard, as I am sure it did all my colleagues. Tony's death, as with the deaths of other colleagues in recent years, sparks emotions of shock, grief, reflection and inevitably anger, given our appalling treatment by the State and minority elements in society over recent years.

The first emotion I imagine being felt by all my colleagues on hearing such tragic news is the personal empathy that can only be felt by a family member on the death of one's own.

For gardai, and police men and women universally, there is a bond or empathy that is different to the one experienced in most work situations. There is a mutual reliance that develops, not simply because we work for a particular organisation or deliver a particular service, but because every day at our work we are potentially dependent on each other for our very lives in a way that the vast majority of workers are not.

All Garda members regularly find themselves in situations that, but for the grace of God, could have ended similarly to the one our dear colleague found himself in Omeath on an autumn Sunday evening.

At this time, I imagine the second emotion also felt by most members in coming to terms with the reality of the death of a colleague on duty is the thought and empathy for the member's family left behind. We think of our own families at home and how they would cope in similar circumstances. We think of all the times we leave them behind when going out to work, not just on weekdays and nights but on Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays, Christmas Days and all other days and nights when other "normal" families naturally come together. All Garda families at this time think of the family of Tony Golden.

The final part of the process felt by all my colleagues inevitably arrives soon after the first two. It is a natural time to reflect upon our place in society and how we are, or are not, valued by our society. Old hurts run deep and heightened emotions are inevitably not far from the surface when dealing with the death of a colleague in times and circumstances such as these.

Though there may be no one particular factor which contributed to the untimely murder of Garda Tony Golden, it is inevitable that the contemptible manner in which gardai have been treated by certain elements in recent years manifests itself at this time of grieving.

Our biggest detractors have been elements of the media, those in the media who are simply puppets for those with other agendas, those in society who will never be pleased in any event, some elements within academic, legal and judicial circles, a vocal and a wide ranging minority of anti- Garda/anti-establishment politicians.

In particular, at times like these we hear many pious platitudes from politicians across the spectrum. However, the sincerity of those coming from certain quarters in particular are highly questionable.

Gardai do not expect thanks or praise for doing their job, it is what we signed up to do, knowing and accepting the risks.

However, the deaths of our colleagues on duty, most recently that of Tony Golden and Adrian Donohoe, come at a time when pious platitudes are harder to swallow from those, who by their previous actions of both commission and omission, obviously do not really respect the members of An Garda Siochana, the difficult and responsible job we do, or the public we struggle to serve from day to day.

What gardai do primarily expect, however, is to be paid proportionate to our duties and responsibilities and secondly to have not just the physical and legal resources but the empowerment that would arise from a genuine and unequivocal imprimatur of state to effectively carry out those same duties and responsibilities.

No member joined An Garda Siochana expecting to become wealthy but when they joined, it is safe to say that without exception they did so with a reasonable expectation to be able to pay their bills, educate their children and live in some degree of comfort proportionate to the service they provide the State, 24 hours a day and 365 days of the year.

Savagely depleted income over the past six years with cuts of up to 25pc in total between pay cuts and increased statutory deductions, have left many, many members and their families in severe financial distress.

At the same time members are increasingly stressed and laboured by considerably reduced manpower owing to the incentivised retirements and moratorium on recruitment over the past few years; a new roster system with 10-hour days as opposed to eight previously, and at the same time a new roster not capable of effectively functioning with reduced personnel now stretched over five units as opposed to four. This makes getting leave near impossible on occasion.

The demands of an increased workload and accompanying responsibilities, a judicial system that no doubt the vast majority of members and the public feel is critically weighed against them, critical under-resourcing in the Garda transport fleet with the ongoing purchasing of cheap family saloon vehicles not fit for modern policing, and station closures which have cut off local knowledge and contact with gardai in over 170 communities across the country, are just a few of the headline issues.

Gardai have been crying out for years that morale is on the floor and no one in Garda management or State has genuinely listened to our concerns. I think, however, Garda members on the frontline and the vast majority of the supportive public we serve are certainly reaching a tipping point in our patience, and both Garda management and Government should ignore this warning at their peril.

When I joined An Garda Siochana, garda officers were first and foremost policemen and women and to a lesser degree managers in an administrative sense, as our role was to provide a policing service - not a business. Many members now feel it's the other way round and their view of the modern garda officer is that it's all about PR and numbers and statistics, while the nuts, bolts and reality of actually policing a community take second place.

I stood with an estimated 4,000 of my colleagues - one third of the membership of An Garda Siochana - at the funeral of our fallen colleague last week. If I ever doubted my estimation of the critical juncture and malaise we now find ourselves in as a membership, I was now in no doubt.

The dysfunction in our "family" was now critically and publicly evident for anyone who stood on that street in Blackrock last Thursday week.

Questions must be asked of all our Garda representative associations. Though they have tried and have had some success, they simply have just not been vocal or demonstrative enough in voicing the concerns of all their memberships. In the eyes of many members they have acceded far too easily to the disempowerment of our profession as outlined, by successive governments and actioned by a to-date, far too accomodating leadership in An Garda Siochana.

The enactment by government of the Garda Siochana Act in 2005 has served successive governments very well in quelling the voicing of discontent among the ranks at this disempowerment.

Ultimately, any government that tolerates or actively causes the disempowerment of their police force, that legislates to give more rights to criminals than their victims, that gives criminals the unending benefit of a glorious free legal aid and social welfare system, that makes its gardai jump through more legal hoops than anywhere else in the world to successfully prosecute criminality and road traffic legislation, that fails to effectively legislate for vexatious complaints made against members of An Garda Siochana by criminals and where prosecutions are successful, against all odds, imprisons those criminals in relative luxury, by implication takes the sense of empowerment, ability and invincibility from the forces of law and order in the State and effectively hands it over to those who are creating the havoc we see in our society today.

Before the fabric of our society is irrevocably damaged by this out of control minority, society must demand that government re-balance the scales of justice in all its multi-faceted parts.

No one wants a repressive police, judicial or custodial system. All right-minded citizens simply want is a re-balancing of those scales. Pay and respect your police force proportionate to their responsibility. Though accelerated recruitment is not a good idea, we are unfortunately in a situation now where recruitment will inevitably have to be accelerated immediately and for some time in order to reduce the enormous pressures on members. From that point on, recruitment must be put on a consistent basis so the present situation, which was avoidable and predicted by the membership, never occurs again.

Let Garda officers return to their primary function of managing the policing of the community, not managing a business.

Allow for the voicing of genuine concern of members on the frontline without the threat of sanction or imprisonment. Streamline and tighten all criminal and road traffic legislation - and, if needs be, ask for the views of An Garda Siochana in doing so.

Tighten our bail laws to what might be reasonably expected by society in any given situation. Completely re-evaluate the criminal free legal aid scheme which is nothing other than an incentive to criminals to commit crime knowing the safety net it provides them, while it is at the same time a fully laden trough out of which many members of the legal profession repetitively feed upon some of the worst in society to the disadvantage of good and at exorbitant expense to all.

Finally, to those elements of State and media that pander to the proportionally small but vocal and strategically placed civil libertarian activists in society, give them voice by all means - but a voice proportionate to their number, while never again forgetting the voice of the majority who are decent, fair and law-abiding and deserve nothing less in a modern society.

Sunday Independent

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