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Ongoing use of Covid-19 Garda roster preventing specialist firearms units from critical training

The Covid-19 emergency roster has been extended amid an industrial relations dispute.

SPECIALIST ARMED GARDAÍ are being prevented from training in tactics and range practice because of the continuing use of the emergency Covid-19 roster. 

The Covid-19 roster saw the Garda duty changed from a six-day shift rotation of 10-hour shifts to four 12-hour shifts with four days off. 

It allowed all Garda resources to be dedicated to the Covid-19 response. 

As previously reported by The Journal, in January Garda Commissioner Drew Harris confirmed that he was extending the Covid-19 contingency roster until the end of March.

This was further extended in February in the midst of difficult negotiations on the preparation of a new Garda roster. 

The dispute centres around a problem with the work of ‘non-core’ gardaí and Garda management’s plan to move them to a more traditional roster.

This would mean non-core gardaí would change from a four-day on/four-day off roster to one which is based more around regular hours across a five-day week.

The Covid-19 roster has proven very popular with rank-and-file members of the force, but problems have arisen for specialist units.

Multiple sources have told The Journal that the Covid-19 roster prevents specialist units from claiming overtime for training.

They explained that the overtime is required because the units are unable to train during their normal work week due to the volume of calls. They instead do training on their days off.

The training is associated with practicing critically important tactics, such as the use of less lethal weaponry and how to safely restrain suspects. 

“It is international best practice that specialist firearms units need to constantly practice their skills – they are perishable and need to be maintained,” a source said.

“There is a big move in the Garda organisation to focus on the British style of armed response, hence the ASU [Armed Support Unit], but there needs to be more of a commitment by Garda management to follow through on this.”

The ASU began as Regional Response Units in Cork and Limerick in direct response to the McCarthy/Dundon and Keane/Collopy feud in Limerick. 

The ASU has now transformed into a countrywide organisation, providing regional response to armed incidents including barricaded suspect incidents, shootings and also carrying out high risk entries to properties in search warrants. 

They are also involved in pursuit and interception of organised crime burglary units. 

In April, The Journal reported that the ASU was suffering under-staffing which has developed into a major problem in Dublin in particular

There have been several incidents of having to use overtime to fill minimum requirements for the ASU in recent months, according to multiple sources.

The result of this means that the overtime budget for the unit is being chipped away. It also means that more pressure is being heaped on the unit with the same number of people doing more work – finishing their regular number of hours for the week and then having to put in for extra hours as overtime.

The lack of adequate resourcing means that the unit is often understaffed and more pressure is being put on those who make up the elite force.

The Garda unions, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) and the Garda Representative Association (GRA), are involved in negotiations with Garda management around the re-shaping of rosters. 

A dispute has erupted as garda management wish to move specialist units on a less response-orientated shift regime. It is understood that this has caused disquiet among detectives and other non-core gardaí.

The Garda Commissioner has extended the emergency Covid-19 roster as these discussions continue.

Statements have been requested from GRA and the Garda Press Office. AGSI did not wish to comment when contacted by The Journal.

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