Gardai struggle to feed families as middle-class squeeze bites
GARDAI are growing increasingly concerned at reports of colleagues in grave financial difficulties and grappling with high mortgage repayments on houses bought at Celtic Tiger era prices.
Governments worldwide have traditionally ensured their police forces are paid enough to avoid the lure of temptation.
Gardai stress they are confident that members of the force will not succumb to temptation, but argue that it should never arise.
However, in a time of recession the property bubble has left gardai, along with many other employees, facing the monthly dilemma of their mortgage swallowing up almost their entire income.
Officers said last night that some colleagues had repayments of up to €2,000 a month while their net pay was little over €500 a week.
Many gardai in Dublin stations had been forced to buy in commuter counties such as Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Cavan and were now unable to either sell their houses there because of the price collapse or seek a transfer due to the lack of movement in the force.
An analysis of garda pay shows a net reduction of 11.7pc for rank and file personnel with more than 10 years' service, down from €653.37 a week in September 2008 to €576.73 in January 2010.
The squeezed middle classes are increasingly turning to charities such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
However, embarrassment at the fall-off in their finances and fear that their neighbours will find out means many are desperate to keep up appearances and reluctant to ask for help.
A spokesman for the St Vincent de Paul said a quarter of all people seeking help are first-timers.
"There is certainly a new group of people who have found themselves in the situation where they need to seek help and they would not have had to in the past," said the spokesman.
"From the outside, there may be a 4x4 parked in the driveway, but it may not have insurance, it may not be moving. Lots of people are embarrassed that their neighbours might see them in dire straits."
A garda sergeant and his wife were recently referred to the St Vincent de Paul after revealing they were unable to put food on their family's table some weeks, despite having a gross income of around €75,000 last year.
The couple told an advisor at the Money Advice and Budgeting Service that their troubles began when they bought a four-bedroom semi- at the height of the property boom which is now costing them €1,400-a-month in mortgage repayments.
They have "cornflake days" when they eat nothing else.
The St Vincent de Paul spokesman said many public sector workers, despite having permanent jobs in the midst of an unemployment crisis, are struggling financially.
"It's a fact that 10pc of families getting income supplement are low-paid public service workers. It can be very difficult to ask for help, but we are here to offer whatever help we can."
Earning €75,000 and living on cornflakes. Comment