Monday 16 September 2019

Editorial: 'Garda reforms require full buy-in from the top down'

'As we face into Brexit, gardaí are going to have to adapt to a whole new series of challenges - reorganisation and modernisation are essential.' Stock photo: PA Archive/PA Images
'As we face into Brexit, gardaí are going to have to adapt to a whole new series of challenges - reorganisation and modernisation are essential.' Stock photo: PA Archive/PA Images
Editorial

Editorial

History has shown what is good for reform can be bad for reformers. The change-makers of this world are more likely to be trampled on than thanked for their efforts.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris's radical overhaul of An Garda Síochána may not be greeted with universal enthusiasm within the force, but it is a long over-due step in the right direction.

As we face into Brexit, gardaí are going to have to adapt to a whole new series of challenges - reorganisation and modernisation are essential.

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Maintaining North/south security co-operation after Brexit along the 500km Border demands a retrofit and restructuring regardless.

But the last few years have also seen morale sink to an all-time low among the rank and file.

Several reports have highlighted lack of accountability and a culture of secrecy.

The treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe and threatened strike action in pursuit of a pay claim, pressuring the Government to cave in to demands, have left the force with a dented reputation sorely in need of panel beating.

The exact motivation behind Commissioner Harris's latest drive was to heighten the profile of gardaí on the street and refocus on community policing as a priority.

The 1,800 extra gardaí that will be redeployed as part of the overhaul will be very welcome in rural communities that have suffered station closures.

The game-changer is the reduction of the number of divisions from 28 to 19, to be run as what the Commissioner sees as a "mini police force".

Much of the thinking that informs the measures comes from a report by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

The thrust of the plan seems to be to strengthen the relationship between gardaí and public.

There is also an emphasis on making the command structure less top-heavy.

If it all works out as the Commissioner hopes, management will be less Dublin-based.

There will be more sergeants and inspectors and fewer superintendents, thus there will be a power-shift towards local officers. Providing there is oversight and coherence, this could see a big improvement in building local ties.

And if it results in more front-line officers available to confront the ever-changing face of crime, it will be seen as a win.

However, the old filing cabinets in the Phoenix Park HQ are replete with musty files outlining blueprints for reform that never made it as far as implementation on the thin blue line.

If this latest model is to work, it must get buy-in from the top down. The requisite funding, including sorely needed new computer and data systems, must be in place. If, as has often been argued, crime is born in the gap between the morality of society and that of the individual, closing that gap will always require constant attention within the force and intense scrutiny from without.

Irish Independent

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