Wednesday 28 September 2016

Flip-flopping on garda resources issue must stop

Published 01/06/2016 | 02:30

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan have been anything but clear in their dealing with the public of late.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan have been anything but clear in their dealing with the public of late.

Rank doesn't exist to confer privilege or power, it's purpose is to invest responsibility. Those who attain it - whether in Cabinet or in the service of the State - must at all times be clear in all they say and do. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan have been anything but in their dealing with the public of late.

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When questioned on the unprecedented gangland violence they both categorically and repeatedly insisted that the gardaí had all they needed to tackle the murderers.

The force was replete when it came to manpower. There were no issues concerning overtime, and resources were more than sufficient to deal with gun law on our streets. Neither flinched when both the AGSI and GRA - whose members put their very lives at risk on a daily basis to take on the drug barons - said the opposite.

Then yesterday, Ms Fitzgerald steps forward to announce that substantial extra resources will indeed be needed for garda overtime. What has changed her mind? Two weeks ago, when the AGSI marched on the Dáil, there was no need for more funding, the Minister insisted.

There is clearly a growing disconnect between the Minister and rank and file gardaí. Consistency matters in leadership, and Ms Fitzgerald cannot be haughtily dismissive one day and solicitous and munificent the next.

It is inconceivable that she was unaware of the deficiencies in garda resources - is it any wonder garda morale has never been lower? Authority depends on dependability, not flip-flopping. The killers have been one step ahead all along. She must realise she is not in a slow bicycle race - a lot more than back-pedalling is required.

There's a social cost to cuts in school buses

The review of school buses has the potential to affect families in every parish in rural areas. At the very least, one in five parents will be watching the review with interest to see if their child's seat is secure or if they will have to make alternative arrangements to get them to their chosen school.

The Department of Education clearly has a goal in mind when it set out the policy position to the new minister, Richard Bruton. The department said a tightening of the eligibility rules over recent years had resulted in a growing number of children availing of school transport on a concessionary basis, whereby they are using seats that would otherwise go empty.

"Given this trend, the department is working in co-operation with Bus Éireann with a view to downsizing the buses required to transport eligible children," the department's briefing document says.

The review will start in the coming school year, with no changes until the following academic year. Although there is a stay of execution, the concern will be that children currently using the bus service to go to their school will be disrupted, leaving parents in the lurch.

Junior Minister John Halligan is undertaking the review, which is set to prove highly contentious, especially if the outcome is the department's desired reduction in the size of buses and therefore a drop in the number of spare seats available to pupils.

About 22,000 out of the 113,000 pupils on school buses are now in the firing line for the cuts to places. Clearly, the objective is to cut the cost of the school transport service, but the social cost also has to be measured.

The Government has an obligation to reassure parents about the purpose, timescale and breadth of this review.

Irish Independent

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