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Industrial relations stand-off looms as representative bodies question mandatory drug testing

The drug testing regime was launched yesterday and is ‘mandatory’ for all garda members.

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AN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS stand-off in An Garda Síochána appears likely as representative bodies have attacked plans for drug testing in the force.

Fórsa, which is the union for civilian staff, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), have questioned the implementation of the measure.

Garda management made the announcement about the drug testing plans yesterday during a briefing about the new Anti-Corruption Unit.

Under Garda plans, the drug testing will be brought in during the third quarter of the year. Compliance with the new policy will be “mandatory”, the Garda Press Office confirmed, and the tests will be done on a random basis. 

The new policy will apply to gardaí, civilian garda staff and to police officers from the PSNI who have been seconded to the force here. 

The proposal has been welcomed by representative bodies but they have questioned its implementation.

AGSI General Secretary Antoinette Cunningham called on garda top brass to urgently meet with the various groups to discuss the scheme.

“AGSI supports any initiative that builds public trust and confidence. We recognise that members of An Garda Síochána should be above reproach in the exercise of their duties,” she said.  

“For that reason, we broadly support the introduction of policies which can enhance these matters. 

“However we remain concerned about media reports yesterday which stated that all Garda personnel will be drug tested commencing within six months. 

“The AGSI is unaware of plans to drug-test all Garda personnel within six months and from early discussions on these issues, understood that it would be random drug testing for approximately 5% of the workforce and ‘with cause’ testing. 

“We call on Garda management to urgently re-engage staff Associations in a consultation process on these very important issues,” she added.

In a statement Fórsa said its members could not be subject to drug testing without a sound legal basis.

“Garda management has unilaterally issued a HQ directive stating that all Garda staff will be subject to mandatory drugs testing and that testing will commence no sooner than six months after the publication of this policy,” the statement said.

“Fórsa deplores the use of illicit drug use in any employment, as it puts at risk the safety, health and welfare of staff in the workplace.

“However, the union’s members cannot be subject to testing for drugs without reason and a legal basis for doing so.

“Fórsa indicated it had not been informed of the specifics of the proposed drug testing process, and that it “has not agreed to the internal Garda policies on substance abuse”.

“Fórsa members in An Garda Síochána are civil servants and, as such, come under the agreed Civil Service Alcohol and Drugs Misuse policy which, in Fórsa’s view, is the appropriate mechanism to manage the issue of any alleged misuse of drugs in this area,” it added.

Fórsa members are already said to be unhappy about plans to subsume their members into the garda organisation around concerns they will come under the remit of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Frank Thornton, President of the GRA, said in a statement that his group is “100% committed to a zero-tolerance policy on drug-taking by any members of the Force”.

Thornton said the GRA is seeking consultation from Garda management “as a matter of urgency”.

“We are at the front line and have seen first-hand the devastation and damage that drugs and the associated criminality inflict on communities.

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“As such, we do not oppose random drug testing of our members but we must ensure that any such policy would be carried on in a fair, measured, balanced and appropriate manner without infringing on members’ individual rights.

“Our main concern is with the manner in which this issue has come to light. There has been no finalised document seen or agreed with the GRA regarding random testing of An Garda Síochána, nor has the Association been aware that a policy document was at such an advanced stage.

“In fact, the GRA were not even informed that yesterday’s press conference launching these policies was scheduled which, we believe, is disrespectful to frontline gardai and our representation.

“As stated, the GRA is not against drug testing with genuine cause and is willing to work with random testing of its membership up to a fair and balanced level. But this was never about testing every member of the force and Garda staff as a matter of course and we would have severe concerns regarding the privacy, confidentiality and the welfare and wellbeing of all members of An Garda Síochána,” he said. 

An Garda Síochána said in a statement yesterday that it had consulted with British police forces where such testing takes place. It said that the testing is mandatory for all Garda personnel, but will be done on a random basis, ie ‘without cause’.

“As stated at today’s media briefing, when introduced, drug testing in An Garda Síochána will be done on a random basis. By definition, random means without cause.

“The Policy document also says that a procedure document will issue in advance of the commencement of drug testing.

“The introduction of this Policy has been the subject of extensive consultation with Garda associations and staff unions over a long period of time.

“As part of research conducted in the development of the Garda ACU, the following police services were consulted with and each of them carry out random drug testing of their personnel: PSNI, Greater Manchester Police, Derbyshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police, Surrey, Nottinghamshire, West Yorkshire,” it read.

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