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Working the frontline: Here's how I live on €23,171 (before tax) a year

‘My most foolhardy move?’ Leaving the private sector and joining An Garda Síochána, admits this frontline worker.

Anonymous

IN MY EARLY 20s I remember going out two or three times a week, enjoying meals with my friends, driving a decent car that was only a few years old, saving money for holidays abroad, going on impromptu weekends up the country, and toying (albeit loosely) with the idea of a getting a mortgage.

Now in my early 30s I find myself in a very different situation: I plan a few weeks ahead if I want to go out for a few on the town, I get my food mainly in that aisle in the Supervalu where the barcodes are covered by yellow ‘reduced’ stickers, my car is on the brink of being uninsurable due to its age, weekend trips up the country is my holiday, and the idea of me getting or being able to afford a mortgage is as far-fetched as having a political party that I would actually be happy to give my first preference.

What happened me? Did I fall seriously ill? Did I, like many others around the country, lose my job as the result of a crippling recession? Did I have two or three unplanned kids that I was seriously unprepared for?

No, I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, I thankfully stayed working throughout the recession, and to the best of my knowledge do not have any children. What I did was even more foolhardy: I left the private sector and joined An Garda Síochána (AGS).

PastedImage-71007 Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Joining the force was always something on the horizon for me. I knew from an early age that I wanted to work in the emergency services. It took me a few years to figure out which one.

The army, paramedics, a fireman or the gardaí all have their pros and cons but once I made my decision, I knew it was the right one. The only problem was that by the time I had made that decision, I was too late.

The recession hit hard and AGS, for the first time in my lifetime, was not hiring. That’s ok I thought, ‘I can go travelling in the meantime. I’ll be older and wiser with more life experience when I finally do start.’

Little did I know what this later start would cost me.

Costings

A sum of €23,171 is what I get a year. That’s €23,171 before PAYE, USC, PRSI and the pension levy.

The last one I didn’t even know existed until I joined the public sector.

What I end up with after tax weekly, I’m almost embarrassed to disclose, is around €350 a week.

Out of this I must pay health insurance (a must in this job), car insurance, car tax, rent, petrol, house bills, phone bills (we are not given mobile phones even though we have to use them all the time), and a loan that I had to get to stay afloat while I was in training.

After these unavoidable costs of living I am left with around €100 a week to spend on, food, clothes, and entertainment. It won’t surprise you to hear that I’m unable to afford savings of any type.

I’d sell my car if I could but I got stationed (with no choice in the matter) two hours from my friends and family and because I’m not stationed in Dublin, public transport is not an option with shift work.

Incidentally selling my car, moving back into my parents’ house and drawing the dole would leave me with more disposable income than I have now – that’s me, a garda working 40 hours a week in Ireland in 2016.

Gardai Graduation Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

I often read things like ‘Sure you knew what you were signing up to’.

Wrong. We were told before joining the job that we’d be starting on 10% less than members hired prior to 2013.

That’s okay I thought: ‘The country is seriously struggling, everyone needs to take a cut.’

Instead of starting on €25,745, I would be starting on €23,171. I can handle that. Wrong. I was in Templemore before I found out that not only did we start on 10% less, but that we would not be in receipt of rent allowance (present since the foundation of the gardaí as we do not choose where we work), nor would we receive an increment that was present for finishing a phase of your probation, after 22 weeks.

The most crushing thing about the whole thing though is there is no sign of letting up.

I am coming up on a year’s service now which would usually mean an increment, and a lessening of my financial hardship.

This will be not happening now as the government has enacted draconian legislation in the form of Fempi or the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015 which will leave me earning this €23,171 until 2018.

While the premise of the act being enacted is hilarious enough in a year that consumer spending is up, tax receipts have been half a billion ahead of forecast and GDP/GNP have risen by historic amounts, the reason that Fempi is being enacted for gardaí is even more ludicrous: We had the temerity to vote against working 30 hours for free a year as part of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

I’m not even earning a living wage for what I already work so I will walk out the door and hand back my badge before I work a minute for free for this government that has abandoned me and my generation.

It is not upper management who come out with buzzwords and auditing schemes in order for promotion that are suffering here.

Nor is it middle management who are tied to the desk felling forests in the name of our lord bureaucracy that are suffering here. It is the gardaí on the street.

It is first on the scene of that stabbing that you heard about on the radio last week, and that shooting the week before.

It is the member investigating that theft that has Mrs Murphy from the corner shop rattled, and the member investigating the assault that you saw as you were walking home from the chipper the other night, the member that had to cut down that 21-year-old that suicided down the road, the one taking a statement from your sister after she got sexually assaulted.

These are the people affected by the government’s ongoing attack on the gardaí that disproportionately impacts members on the frontline.

Shooting in Finglas, Dublin Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

I, personally, have been subject to more verbal abuse than you’ll see in the comments below this article, have been physically assaulted on many occasions, have an ever growing pile of paperwork that will never end and have been the subject of GSOC complaints (not upheld) all while trying to do a tough job to the best of my abilities.

I take those on the chin. I knew that was coming in a job where you are dealing with people in society at their lowest moments.

What I will not take on the chin, and what has me along with many of my colleagues actively looking for other employment is the lower starting point, removal of the 22-week increment, removal of rent allowance and next week’s increment freeze which will leave me down €10,789 per annum from what my colleagues that got hired prior to 2013 would be earning after my service.

I do not believe TDs elected after 2013 are subject to the same rules.

This article was originally published on 24 July 2016. 

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Read: Secondary school teachers protest outside the Dail in dispute over pay>

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