Wednesday 21 August 2019

Force faces battle on two fronts - policing and cost


Stock photo
Stock photo
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

A spate of three gangland murders in a week on the northside of Dublin has rightly led to a public outcry about violent crime.

Citizens have a right to expect they can walk through their neighbourhoods and collect their children from school without the fear of becoming innocently caught up in the spillover of a savage feud between drug dealing gangs.

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And they look to their government, politicians and gardaí to ensure protection is provided. But, inevitably, when the murders are committed within a short space of time and in locations relatively close to each other, they provoke a reaction that can sometimes be knee-jerk and end up in a political row over resources.

Yet again, we have heard calls for more Garda resources and a removal of the confines on overtime spending. In the longer term, what is needed is a whole-of-government approach to the problems that culminate in these killings rather than seeking a solely law and order response.

In the meantime, it makes sense to take a close look at how the Garda overtime budget is being spent. In 2014, it fell back to €38m as recession cutbacks bit.

Three years later, it had more than trebled to €132m as the Government finally accepted additional cash had to be allocated to tackle issues such as the reign of terror waged by travelling crime gangs in rural Ireland and the outbreak of the deadly Kinahan-Hutch feud.

There is no doubt the loosening of the purse strings paid dividends but that was largely achieved by supplementary estimates provided towards year end to prevent a cash crisis in the Garda organisation.

The provision of the extra budget boost had become an annual event in the final couple of months of the year and underlined the futility of successive governments failing to provide sufficient funds at the start of the year.

The finances of the force can only be run efficiently when the need for big overtime payments has been more or less eliminated, apart from special events such as last year's Papal visit which cost around €6m.

The increase in the strength of the force has made it easier for the Department of Justice to place some curbs on overtime although the overall Garda budget will continue to rise as the numbers grow.

This year's overtime budget has been cut to €95m. This is still a sizeable sum but a breakdown of how it is spent shows Commissioner Drew Harris and deputy commissioner in charge of operations and security, John Twomey, have much less to devote to tackling serious crime and terrorism.

In an effort to quell industrial strife in 2016, the Government agreed to the resumption of payment for what is known as parading time - a 15-minute period for briefing gardaí at the start of their shifts.

It seemed like a significant breakthrough until it became clear it was being paid out of the overtime budget.

This year's parading time will account for €22m, or almost a quarter of the overtime allocation. Another 20pc-25pc covers costs incurred by gardaí on court duties.

So almost half of what should be spent on operations is used up by non-core tasks. Commissioner Harris has made it clear the 2017 overtime spend is "not sustainable". As part of measures to impose stronger controls, savings achieved in the final quarter of 2018 have carried over into January-March this year with spending falling to €21.7m, down €6m on the corresponding period last year.

He warned his senior managers this month that to continue to meet their target, spending would require constant monitoring and vigilance.

The need for extra resources dedicated to ending the gang feuds in Dublin and Drogheda and the fallout from Brexit will put that resolve to the test later in the year.

Irish Independent

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