Tuesday 22 October 2019

Policing fears as feuds and Trump security eat into the Garda budget

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Rural policing chiefs fear a shortfall in the Garda budget will curtail the service they provide in the countryside.

The Government has refused to sanction a supplementary budget for the force this year to help Garda authorities sort out their financial problems.

Some divisions still remain within budget but others have already exhausted their annual funding because of operational demands earlier in the year.

The visits of US President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have added to the drain on resources.

It is estimated that the overall cost of providing security and policing for the visit of Mr Trump will be between €10m and €12m, while the visit of Mr Pence will account for a further €3m to €5m. Supplementary budgets have traditionally been drawn up in the autumn every year to offset overspends in operational and overtime spending.

But Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has been told that all expenditure in 2019 must be managed within the allocation provided in Government estimates, published almost a year ago.

According to Mr Harris, the overall financial position of the Garda at the end of July showed a total net expenditure of €946.8m, which was €4.8m more than expected.

However, if savings in some areas were excluded, then the gross year to date overspend amounted to €29m. The expenditure on overtime up to the end of July was €62.5m, which was €10.25m more than the profiled budget.

Garda management is deferring spending on some capital projects in an attempt to reduce the shortfall and avoid a massive impact on operational and frontline budgets.

But Garda chief superintendents are bracing themselves for worrying cuts in their resources for the rest of the year, resulting in a reduction of services provided to the public, particularly in rural divisions that have been hit by what are known as "non rostered events".

The upsurge of gang violence in Drogheda is seen as a typical example of what can take place off the roster, accounting for a large amount of operational resources.

Senior gardaí also point out that almost 50pc of their annual overtime budget is spent without embarking on a single operation on the streets.

Under an agreement signed by the Government with the two main representative associations to avoid strike action in 2017, gardaí are paid 15 minutes of "parading time", which allows them to be briefed before they begin their daily duties.

This was hailed at the time as a big success for gardaí. However, it later became clear that this money must be paid out of the annual budget and it accounts for around 25pc of that allocation.

A further 20pc to 25pc is allocated for duties performed by gardaí outside of their normal hours, in the courts.

This means, say senior gardaí, that control of almost half of the overtime is taken out of their hands at the start of the year.

The fallout from Brexit will add to their financial headaches in the final two months of the year.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan met Mr Harris last week to discuss Garda preparations for Brexit and he told the Irish Independent requirements for an effective policing service would be kept under ongoing review.

Irish Independent

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