Tom Brady: Move sure to infuriate unions and erode policing on streets
The Government seems to be hell-bent on being on a collision course with the gardai after its decision to slash payroll spending on the force.
With the ban on recruitment likely to stay in place for some time, it makes financial sense for the Department of Justice to reduce the budget by making allowances for around 400 members of the force to leave in 2013 through normal retirements, resignations and deaths.
But from the evidence of previous years, there is no justification to support the calculated gamble to stop providing money for up to a thousand gardai.
With a programme of redundancy in the force not an option, the decision, taken without consultation with interested parties, has sent the garda authorities into a flurry of activity.
They are now trying to find ways to drastically reduce the strength of the force by considering short-term measures such as career breaks and secondment to other agencies.
As word filters out through the ranks of the force today, it is certain to cause mayhem among the representative associations.
They have shown restraint to date in their reactions to existing cuts in resources, the closure of stations nationwide and the negotiation of a radical reform of long-established work rosters.
The timing of the move is also difficult to understand as the second phase of the Croke Park talks, which has been successful so far in initiating reform in the public sector, is about to be launched by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and representatives of 26 public service trade unions.
There are already indications that some of the unions will strongly resist attempts to introduce longer working hours and backdoor attempts to push people out of jobs will further infuriate their negotiators.
Irrespective of how innovative the proposed measures might eventually be, it is highly unlikely that around a thousand gardai will be prepared to either disappear for three years or else move temporarily to another state agency. And, in the meantime, the strength of the force is being eroded further.
It sounds like a good idea to send gardai to the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection to help detect tax and welfare frauds. But it is not a welcome step for the public if it means there are less resources available to provide a proper policing service on the streets and rural roads of the nation.