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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Industrial Relations

Dublin Garda chief says 'better roster' will be found as councillors voice concerns

Angela Willis also told the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee that a garda had been injured at last week’s protest at the Dáil.

THE ASSISTANT GARDA Commissioner in charge of the Dublin Metropolitan Region has said the revised garda roster is “not ideal” but that a “better roster” will be found.

At a meeting of the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee this afternoon, Angela Willis reassured concerned Dublin councillors that all policing functions, including community policing, would continue to be covered when the roster change takes place in November.

She also told the meeting that one member of An Garda Síochána had been injured while responding to the anti-immigration protest outside Leinster House last week. 

Councillors expressed serious concerns that community policing will be undermined by the roster change slated for November, with Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolan telling the meeting: “Gardaí expressed to me very clearly their concerns that community policing would suffer, drug squad would suffer, special task forces would suffer.”

Willis said the reintroduction of the pre-Covid roster will provide more overlap at peak times where these is more demand for policing.

She said no Garda stations will close as a consequence of the roster change, and that the publicly advertised opening times of stations will remain unchanged. 

“We’re obviously fully committed to continuing to implement all of our key functions: our community policing, our drug enforcement, our roads policing and responding to domestic abuse,” she said.

“None of that is going to be impacted. In fact, it will be enhanced by having more people available at the times that we need them.”

She said specialist Garda units, such as protective services, detective, drugs and armed response units will remain and continue to operate.

“We have key commitments around community police and juvenile diversion programmes and similar. We will continue to respond to all of those.”

Willis said: “We recognise that this is not an ideal roster.

“There actually is no ideal roster, because we’ve done a lot of collaboration with other police forces around the world and no matter where you go, there will always be things that would need to be changed.”

She said the force is currently trying to negotiate a roster that is more responsive to the needs of the communities and to the needs of members around having work-life balance.

“That’s really important for our members given the tough and challenging roles that they undertake,” she added. “We want to make it a roster that is as work friendly and as family friendly as possible.”

“We would anticipate that with agreement with the associations, we will come up with a better roster. Before now, this is the only agreed roster that we have and it will be coming back into play on 6 November.”

Dáil protest

Willis also told the meeting that one Garda was injured during a protest outside Leinster House last Wednesday as they came to the aid of someone in the crowd. 

She said that members of An Garda Síochána who were present at the protest ”acted with huge restraint in a very, very difficult situation”. 

“I think it’s important to note that on Wednesday, while many people might have opinion about how that incident was responded to, we succeeded in protecting life and property and apart from one member of An Garda Síochána being injured, nobody else was injured.”

She said there have been 420 protests this year, with many of them resulting in “much anger and vitriol levied at members of An Garda Síochána as well as at others”. 

She said that 43 people have been arrested at 15 protests throughout the year, with 32 of those arrests related to public order offences. 

13 people were arrested in relation to the Leinster House protest last week. 

Assistant Commissioner Willis said that a senior investigating officer has been appointed to investigate the wider aspects of the Dáil protest.

This will result in a file being sent to the DPP and could potentially result in further arrests, she added.

Community concerns

Local councillors who attended the virtual meeting raised concerns with the assistant commissioner about a potential impact to community policing as a result of the roster change. 

Sinn Féin councillor for Ballyfermot-Drimnagh Daithí Doolan told the meeting that he had been told by some gardaí that the roster “is not fit for purpose” and will “impact negatively on communities”. 

He said he had been told that increasing from four units to five units “simply doesn’t add up” as more Gardaí will be required to have sufficient numbers.

Doolan asked the chair of the committee to write to Commissioner Harris seeking a meeting as a matter of urgency to discuss the implications of the planned roster change.

“I don’t believe he has heard our concerns. I don’t believe he has taken them on board, because if he did, he wouldn’t be pursuing with this,” he added. 

Social Democrats councillor Tara Deacy, who was chairing the committee, said she would write to Commissioner Harris to ask him to attend the committee before November.

Labour councillor for Pembroke Dermot Lacey said there is a “real fear” that community policing is being removed and that it needed to be assuaged.

“I believe the community garda service is something well, well worth supporting and having more of. I think it’s an area where the public really trust the Gardaí and I think it’s something that we should honour as much as we possibly can,” he said.

Fianna Fáil councillor for Clontarf Deirdre Heney said she was concerned for the morale amongst members and agreed that the value of community gardaí is “second to none”.

“I know the job of the Garda Commissioner is hugely onerous, and I have the greatest of respect for the man, but really and truly, can you listen to what we’re saying? We’re really concerned about the community guard. We don’t want the community garda service lessened and it seems to me that the return to the Westmanstown roster is going to do just that.”

Responding, the Assistant Commissioner reiterated that returning to the pre-Covid roster will only be until a new roster can be agreed. 

She said the associations will meet tomorrow to decide whether they wish to engage with the Commissioner’s proposed solutions.

“This is not something that has come easily. We have spent three years trying to negotiate a new roster. There have been 64 meetings held in that three year period, and many of them were held under the chair of a highly experienced industrial relations expert,” she said.

“It just got to a point where that agreement just wasn’t on the table. But notwithstanding that, we’re going to go back in subject to the associations being amenable to that.”

She also wished to reassure those who had raised concerns that community policing units will continue to operate.

“We have another cohort of people in the Garda college at the moment ready to come out in mid-October. Again, I would expect a significant cohort of those to come to the city and I certainly will prioritise community policing because I know that that is at the heart of what we do.”

Efforts to resolve the long-running industrial dispute over Garda rosters are ongoing, with the Garda Representative Association (GRA) meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last week to discuss potential solutions to the dispute.

Gardaí at present work a four days on four days off roster which was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Harris has said he will introduced a revised roster of six days on and four days off in November, regardless of opposition from the GRA.

Last week’s meeting followed an overwhelming no confidence vote in the Commissioner from the rank-and-file policing body – with 98.7% of the 85% member turnout backing the motion.

Harris presented the GRA with two options: to escalate the matter to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or to engage in a process known as Internal National Discussions, which is set out formally under Garda Internal Dispute Resolution Procedures.

The GRA rejected moving to the WRC but said it had a “number of concerns” to raise with the Commissioner before it would wish to move forward with Internal National Discussions.

It comes after a representative for rank and file gardaí claimed that 24 gardaí attached to Community Policing were informed that their units were being “disbanded and redeployed leaving no designated Community Policing Units in Limerick City”.

The Journal has independently confirmed with multiple sources that gardaí in specialist crime patrols, local task forces, drugs units, roads policing in various areas across the country have been told they will be going back to so-called “regular” policing.

Contains reporting from Niall O’Connor

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