Mick Carty: 'Rumblings of disquiet can't be allowed to derail biggest ever reform of Garda'
Alarming events close to the Border recently, never mind the spectre of Brexit, drive home the need for a well-resourced and highly motivated Garda force.
But when the nation's senior Garda managers make their quarterly pilgrimage to their Mecca in Templemore, it is odds on top of the agenda for discussion to be the recently announced plan by Commissioner Drew Harris to radically reorganise the force.
And while the Commissioner has stated publicly that the day for talking is over, implementation is now the priority and the scale and depth of the reforming package has understandably frightened some rural-based community groups and indeed some senior gardaí. For, no doubt, it is a challenge of a magnitude never faced by the Garda organisation.
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Rumblings of disquiet have emerged among the various bodies representing gardaí of all ranks. This is understandable. Resistance to change is endemic in every organisation and more profoundly in a large established one like An Garda Síochána, but modernisation is essential whether it be a service organisation or a commercial enterprise.
The stated objective of the reform is to create a community-based approach to policing by reducing the administrative structures, which is to be welcomed and something I am in full agreement with.
Operational policing is not delivered by administrative structures, but by people on the coalface, interacting with the community under the leadership of skilled and competent managers.
The reform will give significantly greater autonomy to the divisional chief superintendent which is a welcome development. The chief superintendent will have the authority to develop a policing plan appropriate to his or her area of responsibility.
A policing model appropriate to and suitable for central Dublin is in my view unsuitable for a rural area such as Roscommon or Mayo. The Border regions have different policing needs as evidenced by recent events in the Cavan area.
This will result in the chief superintendent being able to develop capacity and build up expertise at local level. Put simply, subject to corporate governance, the chief superintendent will become a de facto commissioner in his or her area if responsibility for having the authority and capability of providing an effective policing service appropriate in their area. It is well known a yawning gulf exists between the Garda managers at the coalface and Garda Headquarters, first commented on in the famous Conroy Report published 60 years ago.
At present we have 124 admin offices around the country supporting senior officers in the various regions, districts and divisions staffed in the main by sworn Garda members. Under the plan, this will be reduced to 19 - one for each division and staffed by civilians under the supervision of a civilian of principal officer status. They will manage expenditure, personnel, procurement, leave and other administrative duties and will be suitably qualified and trained thus releasing sworn gardaí for operational duties.
The reduction in the number of chief superintendents and superintendents will cause frustration and disappointment in terms of promotional opportunities and extra responsibilities. However, it should be possible for Garda management to devise a career path encompassing advancement opportunities for senior officers or some motivational strategy.
But what is of vital importance is the devising and implementation of a rigorous training programme for all of superintendent and chief superintendent rank involving technology, communications and modern management techniques. Moreover, the provision of technical and logistical support to these officers is vital to success.
While I am of the view the role of the chief superintendent will not present problems, the role of the superintendent will undergo profound change and will be more challenging. The change from a role of geographical responsibility to one of functional is indeed far reaching. It is envisaged to have a staffing of four superintendents in each division, two with responsibility for engaging with the public, one in charge of crime investigation and one responsible for "performance assurance".
This is a paradigm shift from where a district superintendent was responsible for a district encompassing crime, human resources, finance, attendance at coroner's inquests and court presentation. Essentially, this meant a superintendent was required to be an accountant, lawyer, HR specialist, office manager all in the same day in addition to being in charge of a murder investigation. But functional responsibility is now the norm in most commercial organisations.
I do not subscribe to the view that rural policing will suffer - in fact I think the opposite will be the case. With the additional extra redeployment and increased civilianisation, extra gardaí will be available for operational duties. But it all depends on the policing model devised locally and the supervision and leadership by managers. And the plan provides for significant supervision with the appointment of 75 new inspectors and 150 sergeants.
Without doubt the plan will be reviewed and revised. Adjustments will be made where necessary and hopefully in the best interests of the Garda members themselves and the citizen of this State and not, hopefully, for political expediency.
In my lifetime, I have seen numerous plans launched most left to gather dust somewhere. The easiest part is devising plans but implementing them is the difficulty. Mr Harris will be defined on his ability to implement those plans and having the desired outcome. It will not be easy and will take time. He should be given every chance and the necessary resources.
Michael Carty is a retired chief superintendent in An Garda Síochána. A former head of the ERU, he was personal assistant to commissioner Pat Byrne and served overseas as a police adviser in the UN