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A shocking waste of taxpayers' money

LAST month, Justice Minister Alan Shatter disclosed last year's provisional bill for garda overtime: €76.5m. Even in a country accustomed to gigantic bills for everything from bank debt to judicial tribunals, that seems an enormous sum of money.

In fact, it is a considerable improvement on what went before. In 2007, the overtime bill reached a record €135m. We can therefore welcome a substantial saving. But it is still far too high, and some of the reasons are dismaying.

Nobody can object to unavoidable spending to combat violent crime -- or white-collar crime, an area to which we will have to devote more sources. A very different picture emerges when we learn that €17m of the €76.5m represented payments for attendance at court cases which were simply not heard.

And one of the reasons why they were not heard is grotesque. There were too few court registrars to attend, because there are fewer registrars than judges. And the shortage of registrars arose from a ban on public sector recruitment -- designed to save money.

Well might the Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, say, as he did on Saturday, that "we don't really have joined-up thinking in the Irish public service".

Mr Hamilton told a conference in Galway that there is "huge waste" in the legal system. So there is, and in almost any other sector one can think of. But reducing it calls for serious "joined-up thinking".

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