Thursday 21 November 2019

Senior gardaí hold secret talks amid growing disquiet in force

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Steve Humphreys
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Photo: Steve Humphreys

Jim Cusack and Tom Brady

Six senior members of Garda management have held private talks to form a united front amid a growing list of grievances.

The unprecedented meeting, attended by all but one of the seven existing assistant commissioners, focused on a range of issues that could form part of a new campaign.

The secret talks are not seen as posing a challenge to the overall management of the force by Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, who became head of the organisation last year after the controversial resignation of Martin Callinan.

But it will present additional difficulties for her with a management team that is already badly depleted because of unfilled senior vacancies.

The fallout from the changes that followed the recent series of controversies involving the force has also led to tensions at the top of the organisation.

Those vacancies include five positions at assistant commissioner rank while two of the current seven are "acting up" as deputy commissioners.

One of the deputy posts has now not been filled for two years.

The meeting of the six top officers was held last Friday morning at a hotel in Portlaoise and further talks are being planned.

The group is anxious to form a staff association and to gain the right to negotiate their wages and conditions at public service pay talks.

All of the ranks below assistant commissioner have staff associations, and their bargaining power has been boosted recently by an EU decision which will allow them to participate in direct pay talks rather than the parallel discussions that existed previously.

The assistants say their pay rates have fallen substantially behind groups such as departmental assistant secretaries, who were traditionally on a similar pay scale.

They also argue that the top civil servants, as well as their police counterparts elsewhere, including in Northern Ireland and Britain, have negotiating rights through staff associations.

And there is concern at the delay in filling the vacancies for deputy commissioners.

This is due in part to a High Court challenge taken by one of them, Fintan Fanning, who was not at the meeting, against elements of the competition set up to select the new deputies.

A decision on that case is not expected until October and could result in that competition being scrapped and a new selection process being put in place.

The group want discussions on their position under the terms of the authority, particularly in relation to industrial relations issues.

And some are also pressing for what are being described as improved methods of communication between Ms O'Sullivan and all of the management team.

Concern has also been expressed at all senior ranks at the treatment handed out to an officer, who is currently under suspension, pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into allegations of unlawful disclosure of information by him to members of the media.

The officer had authorisation to speak regularly to the media as part of his job description, but was arrested and held overnight in a garda station for questioning about his contacts with named journalists.

His work and personal phones and computers were seized and he is suspended until October.

Senior officers are concerned that the investigation was badly thought out and should have been treated as an internal disciplinary issue rather than a criminal case.

Irish Independent

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