Monday 19 August 2019

Garda allowance brought in to avert strike 'now a major drain on budget'

Blueprint for new unit: Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
Blueprint for new unit: Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said a special allowance given to gardaí as part of the deal which averted strike action in 2016 had become a major drain on the force’s overtime budget.

The commissioner revealed the "parading time" allowance, a payment for attending briefings prior to the start of a shift, was now taking up almost a quarter of the Garda overtime budget and he described the situation as "not sustainable".

He told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee approximately €22m of the overtime budget for 2019 would be spent on the allowance.

His comments have raised the prospect that parading time could be reviewed. However, any attempt to interfere with the allowance is likely to be opposed by garda representative organisations.

Mr Harris was quizzed by TDs about overtime following criticism of spending overruns in recent years.

Comptroller & Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said overtime payments in 2017 totalled €132m or 12pc of the Garda pay bill.

He said the level of spending on overtime was three times that of other police forces and three-and-a-half times the €38m overtime bill incurred by the force in 2014.

Mr McCarthy said his office’s review found management practices to control the overtime budget were "ineffective".

Documents provided to the committee also revealed how one member of the force earned €76,000 in overtime payments in 2017. Labour TD Alan Kelly described the figure as "extraordinary".

Mr Harris said he fully accepted the C&AG findings and that substantial cuts had been made to overtime since he became commissioner last September.

In the first three months of this year, €21.7m had been spent on overtime – some €6m less than the same period in 2018.

Mr Harris described An Garda Síochána as being "under severe pressure" in relation to its overtime budget.

"While we are largely on target for overtime spend, this requires constant monitoring and vigilance to ensure there is no slippage," he said.

The commissioner said that while these controls had an impact on the delivery of policing, overtime was still available, particularly for operations relating to organised crime and dissident republicans.

He said a lot of the overtime budget was caught up in practices the force felt it did not have discretion about, such as the parading time allowance.

This was taking money away from the "operational drive" he wants from overtime, Mr Harris told the committee.

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