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Garda Commissioner Drew Harris Sam Boal
garda commissioner

Drew Harris acknowledges discontent within Garda ranks at Oireachtas justice committee

Harris insisted he does not dodge or deny the concerns shared by gardaí around the morale of the force.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Nov 2023

THE GARDA COMMISSIONER has insisted he does not dodge or deny the concerns around morale with the force.

Drew Harris told an Oireachtas committee he recognised the issues that have been highlighted by associations representing Garda members and has endeavoured to address them.

Giving evidence to the justice committee today, Harris also expressed “huge concern” that 646 Garda members have been subjected to violence or assault in the course of their duties so far this year.

He said it was a priority to ensure all personnel were supported and assisted when faced with trauma, crisis or mental health challenges.

garda-commissioner-drew-harris-arrives-at-leinster-house-in-dublin-to-appear-before-the-oireachtas-justice-committee-picture-date-tuesday-november-7-2023 Harris arriving at Leinster House earlier today. Alamy Alamy

More than 646 gardaí have been subjected to violence and assault while on duty so far this year, according to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris today.

The 646 incidents of violence and assault have taken place during the period January 1 – September 30.

In his opening statement, Harris told committee members that he is fully aware of the personal safety risks and demands associated with a career in policy and that the number of assaults is of “huge concern”. 

“Unfortunately, the harsh reality is, that it poses a significant challenge for An Garda Síochána to develop a safe psychological environment for our personnel due to the unpredictability and volatile nature of policing,” he said.

Harris said that it is a priority for him to ensure gardaí are supported when faced with trauma, crisis or mental health challenges and will point to the launch of the force’s health and wellbeing office which aims to enhance the supports available to staff.

Recruitment and Retention

Harris also addressed the recruitment and retention problem facing the gardaí and said that he is confident that the force will continue to attract “candidates of caliber” to fill crucial roles. 

It was reported last week that the deputy commissioner in charge of policing operations, the second top job in the force, has postponed her retirement because of a lack of interest from senior gardaí in replacing her.

It is claimed that low morale within the gardaí is one of the reasons for a lack of interest in the top job. 

Harris has faced criticism from within in his own ranks over his handling of various issues within the organisation this year. Foremost has been a vexed dispute over his proposals to change the working roster of gardaí.

Commissioner Harris said that the launch of a dedicated recruitment campaign for vacancies at Clerical Officer Grade within An Garda Síochána has attracted 7,400 applicants to fill vacancies in operational and specialist support roles.

Last month, TDs and senators heard from the GRA and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, with both organisations outlining their concerns about gardaí leaving the force.

The GRA told the justice committee that it expects at least 150 gardaí to leave the force this year, with 116 members having resigned already.

Last year, 107 members of An Garda Síochána resigned from the force.

During the commissioner’s appearance before the justice committee, Labour TD Aodhan Ó Riordain pointed to figures that indicated 116 Garda members had resigned so far this year.

Ó Riordain said in 2013 there were 26 resignations and 77 in 2018 and suggested the increase in members quitting the organisation pointed to an issue with morale.

“I’m not avoiding any of these issues in terms of the difficulty of policing,” said Harris in response.

“At the same time I point to people’s sense of belonging with the organisation, their sense of the duty that they feel to the people of Ireland and their recognition of how important their work is.

“So, it’s just not all a negative story. But, at the same time, I do recognise the stresses that are on people, the fatigue that they are reporting, stresses and strains around the workload,” he added.

“And, actually then, you know, the reported oversight as well, that they feel is intrusive.

So, we do recognise all of that. I don’t dodge any of that. I don’t deny any of that.”

“It’s been raised, we’ve done our very best to deal with that and continue to work to do so,” Harris said.

Ronan Slevin, the general secretary of the GRA, said that there is “extreme concern” in the force and that a “growing number are simply walking away”.

He said this is due to a combination of a lack of recognition, poor pension entitlements for new recruits, workload, and an unfair disciplinary process.

Policing of protests

The Commissioner will mentioned the gardaí’s approach to policing protests and will highlight that it does so in a way that is “community-based, engagement-
focused, legal, proportionate, intelligence led and human rights focused”.

Harris will talk about the establishment of dedicated Event Management Units in Dublin to plan, engage, co-ordinate and implement operational policing plans based on intelligence and risk assessments.

He will outline how the approach of these plans is to balance the rights of all citizens to enjoy their right to freedom of expression and association and the rights of others, alongside national security and public order considerations.

“An Garda Síochána prides itself on its consent based and collaborative approach utilised in the policing of public demonstrations with the prioritisation of public safety as paramount while also being cognisant of the need for business continuity within the wider parameters of geographic location,” Harris will say.

The Gardaí’s approach to protests has been the focus of some interest over the course of the last year as the force responds to a rise in anti-immigration and far-right demonstrations. 

Towards the end of September, 13 people were arrested by gardaí over public order incidents during protests outside Leinster House in which a mock gallows depicting TDs and Drew Harris was wheeled outside the main gates of the Oireachtas campus.

Includes reporting from Press Association.

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