Monday 20 November 2017

Shatter to push ahead with major garda reform plans

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Major changes in garda management, including the appointment of a civilian head of human resources, are expected to break a historically long backlog of senior appointments.

Four vacancies at assistant commissioner and 14 at chief superintendent level are to be filled this year, a situation that gardai say is unprecedented. The appointments have to be ratified at Cabinet but it is understood the Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter is intent on the introduction of the new civilian HR director.

The appointment of a civilian to the post has been resisted since it was recommended five years ago as one of the key reforms to introduce greater transparency in the promotion of senior officers.

Garda Inspectorate Chief Kathleen O'Toole made 12 recommendations to reform the garda management structure. Ten of these, including civilian finance and public relations directors, were implemented but gardai have resisted the hiring of civilians as director of strategy and director of human resources, with garda management citing "budgetary" restrictions.

There was no comment from the Garda Press Office when asked if a civilian HR director was to be appointed.

In his first 11 months in office, Mr Shatter has introduced more reforms in policing than any other minister in recent history, helped by the need to introduce cuts to meet EU/IMF budget requirements.

In December he announced the closure of 31 of our 703 garda stations including some of the 47 stations in Dublin. There will also be reduced opening hours in many of the 24-hour stations.

This move is also in line with recommendations made by the Garda Inspectorate in a resources allocation report in August 2010. It is understood more closures will be announced during the year.

Another perennial issue that was shelved by repeated governments is the roster system in Dublin which resulted in the same number of gardai being on duty at 6am on Monday mornings as there are on weekend evenings. A new roster system is being tested and, under Mr Shatter's direction, a new more efficient shift system is expected to be in place across the city by autumn.

Mr Shatter also ordered that Mullingar, Clonmel, Cavan and Castlebar Army barracks be shut, a move that had previously been resisted for what appeared to be local political reasons. Despite the closures Mr Shatter gave the first official undertaking that the Defence Forces' strength would be set at 9,500.

Mr Shatter is also reversing the Fianna Fail-led coalition decision to increase gardai numbers to 14,500, an historically high number which many senior gardai felt was done to curry political favour. The force will be reduced to 13,500 through retirement and a hold on recruitment.

During the year Mr Shatter also introduced the 29th Amendment to the Constitution allowing the Oireachtas to apply pension and salary cuts to judges. The amendment was signed into law in November.

Mr Shatter also addressed the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse of children.

For almost two decades governments had wavered on introducing legislation but in July Mr Shatter introduced the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2011 which will make it a criminal offence to fail to report the abuse of a child to gardai. The bill is due before the Dail in the new year.

He is also bringing in legislation to protect home owners who defend themselves against burglars or intruders, up to and including lethal force.

However, Mr Shatter attempted but was unable to abolish upward-only rent reviews after legal opinion said such a move could be challenged as unconstitutional.

Sunday Independent

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