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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 23 September, 2019
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'I won't be counting my chickens': Frontline gardaí respond to Drew Harris's shake-up of the force

Not everyone is sold on the idea.

Image: Shutterstock/abd

GARDAÍ ON THE frontline are this morning digesting the news that the entire governance structure within the organisation is to change in the next two years. 

Commissioner Drew Harris announced a raft of changes which will see the number of garda divisions reduce from 28 to 19, something Harris said would see more gardaí on the streets tackling crime. He added that frontline members would see a reduction in administrative work which could free them up to do other tasks. 

Under the new plans, Chief Superintendents in charge of the new divisions will be given more powers and allocated four Superintendents to oversee a more community-based approach to policing in Ireland.

Two of these Superintendents will be responsible for community engagement, while one Superintendent will be in charge of crime policing and another will oversee the performance of police work.

According to the plan, the divisional changes are expected to reduce the administrative burden on uniformed gardaí by creating ‘business services’ units, which will tackle more bureaucratic aspects of policing such as paperwork and financing.

It’s expected that 1,500 more gardaí will be hired by 2021, including 700 members to replace retiring gardaí between now and then and 800 members for new roles, while 1,000 more gardaí will be reassigned to operational and investigative roles.

The changes have been welcomed by the Garda Inspectorate, the independent oversight body, but the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) which represent rank-and file and middle management members respectively, have voiced their concerns over the proposed changes.

changes

GRA General Secretary Pat Ennis has welcomed Harris’s indication that he is open to considering feedback from the association following publication of the proposed changes.

“Now we have a sense of what is envisaged, our Central Executive Committee can analyse the proposals and consider a response when it convenes next month.

“If the commitment in the operating model to provide enhanced policing capabilities and support at local and regional level is delivered, then we would welcome the increased safety and welfare of our members. This would also enable us to provide a better service to the public.

“The proposed reorganisation could have a significant effect on our members’ working lives and their lines of management accountability. There could also be implications for our representation structures which will need to be considered when our executive meets in September,” Ennis said. 

channnges What the changes mean. Source: An Garda Síochána

The AGSI said that while it will support the implementation of the new model, there are “very many unanswered questions particularly around funding, manpower, and the impact on rural policing”. 

Fears for rural policing

In a statement released this afternoon, it said that it had a number of concerns. 

The statement read: “While the Commissioner is quoted as saying that the model is designed to enhance community policing the AGSI is concerned at the removal of a management structure that has direct responsibility for the governance and accountability of frontline policing. 

“Large rural towns across Ireland will no longer have a Garda Superintendent present locally but instead may be based in an adjoining county.  

“Previous reports on the functioning of An Garda Síochána have been heavily critical of garda management for being too far removed from operational policing. But today we see a further downgrading of management, which will pose challenges for sergeants and inspectors who rely on managers to supervise and guide us in our role.

Frontline members are extremely frustrated at the introduction of another new model on top of a raft of other models and the impact on organisational change. Members are not seeing the change that is supposed to be occurring on the frontline.

Away from the representative organisations, TheJournal.ie has received comments from a number of members who will have to work within the new model.

One said: “If it does what it says it will, then we can’t complain. We all want more time to be doing actual police work and not sat in the station doing paperwork. But we have to wait and see. There’s saying something and then there’s doing something. So I won’t be counting my chickens yet.” 

Another said that the move could be seen as a money-saving exercise given the significant reduction in the number of chief superintendents and the money that could free up. It has long been believed that Harris has been attempting to cull the number of senior members in a bid to put his own stamp on his tenure. 

At the start of this year, TheJournal.ie reported about how senior members were concerned that Harris was paving the way for the removal of much of the top brass, suspicions which were this morning confirmed.

At the time, one source put it that “the old guard have to go if he wants to ring the changes”.

Another source said that the new model is actually a rehash of something which was tried before – he said the amalgamation of stations into districts happened before and didn’t result in more boots on the ground. 

For the vast majority, it’s wait and see if this new structure gets the thumbs up from members. 

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