Sunday 17 December 2017

What if feels like to retire before you are ready

Prince Phillip has just retired at 96, but many are forced to leave their jobs when they feel they have more to give. Former garda Martin Donnellan shares his experience

Shock to the system: Martin Donnellan was forced to retire at 60. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Shock to the system: Martin Donnellan was forced to retire at 60. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Prince Phillip at his last public engagement before retiring
Martin Donnellan when he was Assistant Commissioner

Chrissie Russell

I was only a year in the guards when my patrol car was fired at several times by people on their way to rob a bank. Another night, a sawn-off shotgun was pushed through our car window, then there was an occasion when myself and another unarmed detective succeeded in arresting three armed men in the Dublin mountains - something I was later awarded a Silver Scott medal for bravery for. In my 40 years of service I've seen men mowed down and walked after too many coffins.

There will be people who say that after all that, I (or any member of the force) deserves to retire early… that we've done our bit. But it's different looking on the inside to the outside. When I turned 60, I was in charge of all the national units and I felt like I still had a lot more to give.

For nearly 55 years, the age of retirement for those ranked superintendent or higher in the guards was 65, but in 1996 that changed.

In a memo, written by a civil servant at the Department of Justice, it was suggested that all gardai, regardless of rank, should retire at 60 years of age. According to this memo, which went on to become law, this earlier age across the board was something required for "dynamism" and "motivation" in the force.

Prince Phillip at his last public engagement before retiring
Prince Phillip at his last public engagement before retiring

I felt, and still feel, that this is irrational and unfair. In my 40 years in the guards I never witnessed motivation as an issue with any of my colleagues, whatever age they were. In fact, I always claim that in any walk of life, the most important attribute anybody can have - and this is especially true in police work - is experience. You can't buy it and you can't teach it. My experience, throughout my career, was that when I looked for a bit of help, a bit of direction or advice, I always looked upwards to some really experienced person whose insight I valued.

Because of this, in 2008, I decided to take a case to the High Court challenging the mandatory retirement age of 60 for members of the Garda Síochána. I didn't take the case because I thought I deserved to stay on for being better than anyone else - I've no doubt there were many more as good as me - but my feeling was that, at 60 years of age, people should have a choice. At the very least that there might be the option of serving on in a lesser role if they feel there are so many other 'dynamic' people around. If you're going to be pensioned off on half pay, why not have the choice of staying on in the job on half pay?

So there was no easing into retirement for me. When my 60th birthday passed in June of 2008, I was in employment limbo… then the judgement came back finding against me on all counts and that was it. I had to retire straight away, end of story.

In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best way to end a career. I was badly stuck with all the expense and quite shattered by the whole experience, but I've no regrets about doing it.

That feeling that all of a sudden I was gone was a huge psychological shock to the system. I decided to do a university course in management and went on to set myself up as a licensed investigator. I do work for some firms of solicitors, I'm on the board of a security company and I work for a county council here in Dublin.

It keeps me going and I'm quite happy and used to it now. I knew I needed something to get up for in the morning and it's very important to me to have something that keeps the brain ticking over. You can only play a certain amount of golf!

Martin Donnellan when he was Assistant Commissioner
Martin Donnellan when he was Assistant Commissioner

It's good too to have time with the grandchildren (and nice to hand them back!) and meeting regularly with a lot of former colleagues is a great thing. But there are certain things you can only do for a certain amount of the time.

How you feel about the age you retire at depends on your family circumstances too.

If you hadn't any family, perhaps you'd be happy to head off to Florida and buy an apartment at 60, but I still had a family I wanted to support and that aspect of it worried me as well.

I still miss the job. I loved the guards, I loved the whole idea of taking on cases and trying to bring them to a successful conclusion. You mightn't always bring them all but when you did, there was a fantastic sense of achievement. I met wonderful people along the way, built strong friendships and experienced a huge sense of camaraderie within the force. It was more than a job to me.

Of course there must be a retirement time. But if people are living longer by about 20 years now, then logic dictates that mandatory retirement ages need to be looked at. There's a whole lot of controversy about people having to go at 65 - what about the people who are being forcibly retired at 60? There is no legitimate reason why gardai of any rank couldn't serve longer if they so wished. If someone wants to retire at 60, fine, but if they want to serve on? Well it should be their choice.

To forcibly retire someone at 60 is what I call ruthless operating. And I know plenty of colleagues who feel the same. I honestly think we live in an ageist society and they're mad to throw people on the scrap heap.

Irish Independent

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