Tuesday 21 November 2017

Calls for garda debt code rethink

John Drennan

John Drennan

The garda disciplinary code may have to be changed to allow debt-laden gardai to qualify for the benefits of the Government's new insolvency scheme, the Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has warned.

Concerns are escalating among rank-and-file gardai that their members will not be able to avail of the Government's new scheme to resolve the ongoing mortgage arrears crisis.

This is because the force's code of regulations states that inability to pay your civil debts is a disciplinary matter that can lead to suspension or dismissal.

Gardai who find themselves unable to pay their civil debts must report this state of affairs to internal affairs, as accumulating an "unsustainable debt'' is regarded as representing "a breach of discipline".

However, whilst financially compromised gardai are perceived to be more susceptible to corruption, opinion is growing across the political divide that the code of conduct does not take into account the unique nature of the Irish mortgage crisis and its particular impact upon the Garda Siochana.

A Garda Representative Association (GRA) spokesperson said that when it comes to the new regime, even though "a lot of our members are in dire financial trouble they will not come forward because of the fear that if you are declared insolvent you will have to leave the force''.

It is believed much of the current wave of militancy within the gardai is centred on high levels of mortgage indebtedness.

Though exact figures are not available, it is believed that 60 per cent of the force has joined its ranks within the last 10 years.

Most of those would have purchased houses during the height of the boom and GRA representatives believe that up to 40 per cent of those mortgages are in trouble.

The unique situation of gardai was recently raised by Labour Whip Emmet Stagg with Mr Howlin.

Mr Stagg told Mr Howlin that the "common thread amongst gardai worried about Croke Park II was unaffordable mortgages'' and the difficulty "the current code concerning debt and bankruptcy posed for gardai who want to avail of the Personal Insolvency Bill''.

Citing growing concerns, even amongst the Garda Representative Association, over the "volatile'' mood of the force'', Mr Stagg told the minister that "access for gardai to the benefits of the insolvency scheme would provide a safety valve for the frustration and anger that is evident and in danger of exploding''.

Though any decision on such changes is ultimately a matter for Justice Minister Alan Shatter, the Labour Whip said that Mr Howlin had been "strongly supportive" and "agreed with my views and would raise the matter directly with Shatter''.

Irish Independent

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