Serious crime investigations collapse over controversial garda roster system
Investigations into serious crimes - including murder and rape cases - are being "wrecked" by the new garda roster system, sources claim.
Senior members of the force said the roster system, introduced three years ago, on top of increased time off which allows gardai up to 130 days holidays and 'rest' leave each year, is resulting in more cases falling by the wayside than ever before.
With strict non-overtime rules and the six-days on, four-days off roster introduced in 2012, an increasing number of victims of crime have been left bewildered and angry at the collapse of their cases.
Senior detectives say the system - which was applied to detectives as well as uniformed gardai - had made it impossible to properly investigate murder cases.
There were 12 gang-related murders in Dublin last year, but no charges have been brought against anyone involved in the killings. In some cases, no arrests were even made.
The breakdown in investigations has been exacerbated by the increasing delays in getting cases to court. One source last week pointed to a "straight-forward enough" rape investigation in a rural division which is now running into its fourth year because court time cannot be set aside.
Murder investigators also complain that the strict implementation of the new roster system since 2012 has been marked by a steep decline in the number of prosecutions being brought.
The breakdown in the system is also being highlighted by the views of the increasing number of young gardai who are taking career breaks to work for police forces in Australia.
Some 84 officers have taken career breaks, many of whom will take up policing roles in Western Australia this year - around the same number as the first intake of recruits into the gardai in six years.
According to sources, the young gardai working in Australia have found the system of investigating crimes in a collective way to be far more efficient than the practice here. In Australia, police enter details of the crimes they are investigating on to the computer database and then print out a hard copy for the incoming shift to follow it up. In Ireland, however, cases continue to be assigned to the first garda investigator and are not passed on.
Several sources who spoke to the Sunday Independent last week said when a garda takes leave, the case effectively goes into abeyance. When they return after four days' 'rest', they often find they are assigned to other duties and investigations. This has left many serious investigations incomplete, which officers say is damaging to victims and to the image of the force. It is also an encouragement to repeat offenders who are avoiding prosecution in increasing numbers.
Senior sources say the historical method of allowing individual gardai responsibility for investigations only worked because the old roster system allowed for continuity of service and, where needed, overtime to complete essential early elements of investigations.
They are concerned the failure to investigate crimes is damaging the morale of young officers, who see too many difficulties in performing their primary duties.
According to sources, the new roster suited rural-based gardai, who make up the majority of the force, but not officers working in high-crime urban areas.
Garda management also looked favourably on the new system because it met with EU working time directives and came at no extra cost during the height of Government austerity cuts.
Garda management confirmed they are aware of difficulties caused by the new roster system and said the matter is currently "under review".