Saturday 21 September 2019

Garda top brass warn Shatter on dangers of cutting 1,500 from force

Cuts are worse than thought as crisis in garda ranks grows

Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Tom Brady Security Editor

GARDA management have warned Justice Minister Alan Shatter that they will not be able to provide a full policing service if he presses ahead with plans to slash the strength of the force by the end of the year.

The full impact of the plans, approved by Mr Shatter, emerged last night as the extent of the force's budgetary crisis was revealed.

It is now clear that the garda authorities will have to reduce their numbers to 12,000 by the end of December because of a shortfall of ¿35m in the 2013 budget. That's a cut of 500 more gardai than was thought to be the case when details about cutbacks resulting in the loss of 1,000 members were first revealed in the Irish Independent on Saturday.

The size of the cuts has shocked the force's senior management, who were not aware of the plans until they carried out a detailed analysis of the financial figures.

Serious concerns about the fallout from the budgetary bombshell were spelled out by top management in a letter to Mr Shatter.

The move, while not unprecedented, is seen as highly unusual and an indication of how worried senior officers are.

It followed an earlier declaration by Commissioner Martin Callinan that he would not like to see the strength of his force drop below 13,000. This was the figure approved under the national recovery plan, 2010-2014.

Mr Callinan told senior politicians at a meeting in Leinster House he was worried that if the numbers continued to fall, it would take two years to build up the organisation again because of the training programme for new recruits.

Mr Callinan acknowledged that the force could not meet a deadline of reducing the strength to 13,000 by the end of last year because there were not sufficient retirements, but it was hoped that a further 400 to 500 retirements this year would result in the target being met.

Unknown to garda management, the Government had already privately decided to impose further cuts by providing wages this year for only 12,000 rather than 13,000 gardai.

The gardai only became aware of the fresh cuts when the budgetary figures were studied by their financial section at Phoenix Park headquarters.

Strength

If the cuts are implemented, they will bring the strength of the force down to its lowest level in at least a decade. They will also force the authorities to tear up the blueprint they had drafted for the organisation to deal with the existing drop from 14,500 to 13,000.

Garda districts are already being merged and a number of supervisory posts scrapped to cope with the slimmed-down force. But a further reduction of another 1,000 personnel means that garda management will have to look again at how the force should be run, less than a year after the last review.

One senior garda officer said: "The Government seems to forget that, unlike in other European jurisdictions, the gardai fulfil a number of other roles that are performed elsewhere by separate agencies.

"They carry out the duties that are assigned to separate security agencies such as MI5 and MI6 in the UK as well as looking after immigration and traffic.

"The thin blue line can only stretch so far," he added.

Around 1,000 gardai are eligible at the moment to leave the force on full pension after reaching their 50th birthday and completing 30 years of service, instead of waiting until they are 60.

But it is accepted on all sides that the majority of those will remain in the job because of the lack of alternative employment elsewhere.

Instead, the Government is relying on measures such as a three-year career break with an offer of a taxable €30,000 lump sum if it is accepted, or a secondment to other agencies.

Fianna Fail justice spokes-man Niall Collins said yesterday that encouraging the most experienced members of the force to retire early would result in a "brain drain" while also losing the intelligence that had been built up over the years in dealing with criminality.

Irish Independent

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