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Rural gardai taking twice as many sick days as city officers

RURAL garda divisions with some of the lowest crime levels in the country also have the highest levels of sick leave.

Gardai in Louth, Meath, Tipperary and Donegal are the sickest in the country, racking up average annual sick leave at more than twice the levels of gardai working in some of the toughest inner-city areas of Dublin.

The sickest gardai in the country are in the Louth-Meath division with an average of 15.93 days off per garda. With just over 600 garda in this division, this gives a grand total of around 10,000 work days lost due to sickness.

Tipperary, which traditionally has among the lowest crime rates in the State, comes in next with gardai there suffering an average of 15.5 days sick a year -- a total of around 6,000 days lost a year.

Next most frequently in line for the doctor are gardai in Donegal with an average of 13.99 days sick leave a year -- a total "loss" to the force of around 7,000 working days. Donegal also has the highest levels of long-term sickness followed by Kerry and Cavan/Monaghan.

By contrast, gardai in Dublin with its soaring crime rates and a working roster system denounced by the Garda inspector Kathleen O'Toole as destructive to good health, are half as likely as their rural colleagues in Louth, Meath, Tipperary and Donegal to call in sick.

The average sick leave in Dublin is around 7.3 days a year and the two lowest divisions in the country are Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) East with 3.7 sick days a year and DMR North -- one of the country's toughest policing areas with five homicides already this year --with an average of 6.43 days a year.

The Garda division with the worst crime problems in the country is DMR West, yet its officers, the most under pressure in the country, still call in sick less than counterparts in Carlow/ Kildare, Cork, Galway, West Kerry, Cavan/ Monaghan and Sligo/Leitrim.

Some of the national figures are difficult to explain. West Cork is seen by many people as one of Europe's most beautiful rural idylls with contented people and, very low crime rates. Yet its gardai have almost exactly the same sick days leave as gardai in the Dublin garda district, which had 28 gangland murders and more attacks on gardai than in any other part of the country.

Even the Clare division which, along with Mayo, has traditionally had the lowest crime rate in the State, still manages to have an average of 10.39 days per year (Mayo managed an average of 9.92 garda sick days per year).

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Indoors life also doesn't seem to suit gardai. Officers serving mostly behind desks at Garda Headquarters in the pleasant setting of Phoenix Park have an average of 9.12 sick days leave per annum.

The embarrassing figures are based on a survey of all sick leave in 2007 carried out by the Garda Inspectorate under Chief Inspector Kathleen O'Toole.

The survey and reason behind the examination of garda sick leave was based on her serious concerns that garda working conditions in Dublin are rendering many officers a danger to themselves and the public. Chief Inspector O'Toole has directed that garda management "as rapidly, as feasibly possible" reform working conditions for gardai on the arduous 'three-relief' roster system.

In her latest report on garda resource allocation, the former Boston Commissioner expressed serious concern over the effects the roster system was having on health and performance. She pointed out that it would be illegal in any other European country. In fact, the Government demurred from the 1997 EU Working Time Directive in order that gardai in Dublin would continue to work the roster system that had been in place since the 19th century.

She included studies done in other countries, which clearly demonstrate that gardai working the roster system in Dublin are a danger to themselves and to the public, particularly when driving to or from work while on the prolonged night shifts.

She recommended that the system of seven consecutive night rosters being stopped and no member of the force work more than four consecutive nights shifts.

Her study found that some gardai in Dublin find themselves working astounding and potentially dangerous shifts. Between February 11 and March 8 in 2008, she found that 1,334 gardai worked shifts in excess of 16 hours; 12 worked shifts in excess of 24 hours and the longest amounted to 33 hours' straight work. "While the incidence of excessively long periods of duty is relatively small, they involve serious implications for health, safety and effective performance of duty," she observed.

O'Toole recommended that, alongside fixing the roster system in Dublin, gardai should also have a computerised system for monitoring sick leave. Under the current system, sick leave is still written in by hand in the station diary and gardai have to fill in a number of forms, which are rarely, if ever, seen by superiors -- the same system that applied in the 19th century.

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