Saturday 16 December 2017

No cash for garda pay claims included in Justice budget

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald

Shane Phelan Legal Affairs Editor

No additional money has been set aside in the Department of Justice budget for next year to meet garda pay claims.

With rank and file gardaí just weeks away from unprecedented strike action, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald stood firm on the pay issue, saying extra cash had not been made available in response to their demands.

However, she announced €71.5m was being set aside for garda overtime in 2017, safeguarding the future of the force's successful Operation Thor anti-burglary clampdown.

She also gave a commitment to increase the garda workforce to 21,000 by 2021.

Quizzed about whether garda pay claims had been factored into the department's €2.54bn budget for 2017, the Justice Minister said it was committed to the gradual restoration of pay under the Haddington Road agreement.

Demands for the immediate restoration of pay from members of the Garda Representative Association and a 16.5pc pay claim from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors were not factored into the €2.54bn figure, she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said the Budget only included "what has been approved by Government". But she was open to further talks with garda representatives in a bid to "find a way forward".

The future of Operation Thor had previously been in doubt, with Ms Fitzgerald saying in recent months it would have to be reviewed in light of a collapse in burglary rates.

The €71.5m allocated for garda overtime will help fund the continuation of the operation, as well as initiatives targeting gangland and international terrorism.

The figure set aside for overtime is €20m less than will be spent this year.

However, Ms Fitzgerald said this year's spend included a number of "one-off events" and should extra funding be needed for overtime in 2017, the figure would be reviewed.

The Tánaiste said the garda workforce would increase to 21,000 in the next five years.

This means that some 2,200 additional gardaí will be recruited in that time.

Civilian numbers will be doubled from 2,000 at present to 4,000, while garda reserve numbers will jump from 800 to 2,000.

It is envisaged that 800 additional gardaí will be recruited next year and up to 500 civilians and 300 reservists.

Elsewhere, funding for the courts is to increase by €30m, up to €140m.

Much of the additional cash is to cover the cost of new courthouses and upgrading IT infrastructure.

A further €1m has been set aside for the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, which came into being earlier this month.

Extra cash is also being given to the Criminal Assets Bureau, Private Security Authority, the National Disability Authority and the Coroner Service to recruit staff. Plans for a new Forensic Science Laboratory are also being accelerated, amid concerns that current facilities are not fit for purpose.

Ms Fitzgerald said €6m was being made available for the building of the new laboratory in Backweston, Co Kildare, with construction to start next year.

Forensic Science Ireland director Sheila Willis welcomed the development, saying: "The current facility is unsuitable for modern science practices and it is vital that a new laboratory starts as soon as possible.

"This will allow us to make full use of the huge potential offered by the new DNA database and futureproof the needs of the service for decades to come."

Irish Independent

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