Tuesday 21 January 2020

Garda chief stands by shutdown of stations

Fergus Black

GARDA chief Martin Callinan has defended planned station shutdowns saying that many of those targeted for closure were manned for only one or two hours a week.

The Garda Commissioner said senior officers were "painfully conscious" of the sensitivity surrounding the closures, but added that it would lead to better policing.

He also accepted that future new recruits could be on different pay and conditions to serving gardai in the wake of the scrapping of many allowances.

Despite this scenario, people would be "battering down the gates to get in" if the jobs embargo was lifted and recruitment to the force was reintroduced, he predicted.

As many as 80 garda stations nationwide are targeted for closure, a move described by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) as a retrograde step that would "come back to haunt us".

Problems

Mr Callinan told the Dail's Public Accounts Committee that a "considerable number" of the stations did not have a garda presence for longer than one or two hours a week.

"We will provide at least the same if not a better service (following closures)," he said.

"I wouldn't go down the road of embarking on station closures if I felt it was the wrong course of action to take."

If that meant having a cadre of gardai on patrol tackling crime rather than having one person in a police station for a couple of hours, that was the clear alternative, but the policy would provide "a footprint for future policing".

He said many of the allowances gardai were entitled to recognised the unique nature of their work, and had been awarded in lieu of basic pay rises over the years.

A total of 108 allowances are payable to gardai, but the committee was told that 35 were not used at all. GRA general secretary PJ Stone said rank and file members availed of only 34.

Eight allowances, which include special payments for the use of bicycles as well as Gaeltacht, clerical and Aran Islands money, have been targeted for "priority elimination", and a consultation process would now begin with garda staff associations to set a time scale for the cuts.

Mr Callinan was questioned by Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald about the problems any difference in pay between new and serving gardai would pose for morale in the future.

He said it would complicate his task, and it would be preferable if that scenario "did not play out".

"I would have no alternative as commissioner than to get on with it and manage it with my senior officers," he said.

Mr Callinan also defended the millions of euro in overtime paid to gardai, saying it was not a discretionary fund at his disposal.

"It's not something that is thrown away like confetti at a wedding," he said. "People lose sight that we are a security as well as a policing agency."

Irish Independent

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