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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Mar 1969

Vol. 239 No. 7

Committee on Finance. - Vote 21: Garda Síochána.

I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £60,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1969, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Garda Síochána including Pensions, etc., and for Payments of Compensation and other Expenses arising out of service in the Local Security Forces; and for payment of a Grant-in-Aid.

This Supplementary Estimate is largely of a routine character and the net sum required, that is £60,000, represents the difference between increases which have arisen on certain subheads and savings which it has been possible to make in other items. The increases come to a gross total of £173,500 but this is partially offset by savings totalling £113,500, mainly on subheads F and G. The additional sum of £30,000 required in subhead A arises from the introduction last October of mid-monthly advances of pay to those sergeants and guards who are still paid on a monthly basis. This is an interim measure pending the general application of weekly pay to those ranks. Payments totalling £100,000 which have been made in mid-March would normally not have arisen until the 1st April and would be a charge on next year's Vote. There have been savings of £70,000 on the subhead so that an extra £30,000 is now required. There will, of course, be a corresponding adjustment next year.

An additional sum of £80,000 is required for subhead B mainly to cover increases in rates of locomotion and subsistence allowances which were made retrospective to January and April, 1968, and increased removal expenses rates which were made retrospective to July, 1964. All these changes in rates were negotiated under the Garda Síochána Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme.

Subhead E. 1 is a new subhead to provide specific approval for the payment of an annual Grant-in-Aid of £3,500 to the Garda Síochána Medical Aid Society. This replaces a corresponding annual expenditure on the provision of medicines for members of the former Dublin Metropolitan Division. As shown in the Supplementary Estimate, this payment was originally provided for under subhead E and I am advised that the change-over brings the payment into line with Grants-in-Aid generally.

Finally, a net sum of £60,000 is required to make good a deficiency in the payment made from the Road Fund to subhead H, Appropriations-in-Aid. The amount of this payment, which falls to be determined by the Minister for Local Government with the sanction of the Minister for Finance, had not been finally decided upon when the main Estimate was printed. In the event, the actual payment will now be £70,000 smaller than the figure shown in the main Estimate. This deficit of £70,000 is offset to the extent of £10,000 by an unexpected buoyancy in Miscellaneous Receipts, so that the net deficit is £60,000.

We in Fine Gael support this Estimate as it is money necessarily required to meet the expenses outlined by the Minister. Any money which is spent on the Garda Síochána is money very well spent. They are a body of men of which this country can be rightly proud. It is composed of some of the finest citizens in our community and they render singular service to our people, most of the time far beyond the call of duty. Sometimes I am very much impressed, as I am sure the Minister must have been in his private capacity as an officer of the court, at the manner in which the gardaí will frequently, out of their own pockets, contribute money to many worthy causes and the number of occasions on which gardaí, again out of their own pockets, will come to the assistance of people who come under their notice in order to assist them in whatever difficulties might have brought them under the notice of the Garda Síochána.

It is therefore appropriate that when we are voting some money to these men we should reject the mischievous accusations which have been made by an irresponsible element in the community that gardaí have been guilty of brutality. It is an extraordinary thing that the more force some people are prepared to use to get their unlawful ends the more they are inclined to accuse the Garda of brutality. Those who live by force can hardly expect to be treated with velvet gloves. Those who seek to cause mischief can hardly expect people to sympathise with them when the forces of law and order in our midst endeavour to obstruct their ill-designed aims. Therefore, once again we applaud the Garda Síochána and are only too glad to see even some small modifications in the conditions of their service and the conditions of their retirement. They are all highly deserved and we in Fine Gael welcome them.

I am not too clear what the Minister means by the last paragraph of his speech. It is not very clear to Deputies what exactly is covered by payments made from the Road Fund to subhead H, and I would appreciate some clarification of the type of expenditure covered by the £60,000 which is the main figure in the Supplementary Estimate. I must say that I have been impressed to see in Bettystown, County Meath, on Saturdays and Sundays and on days when considerable traffic accumulates near the very popular beach, moveable "No Parking" signs which are apparently erected by the Garda Síochána. It is the only place in which I have seen signs of this kind. I do not know why they have not been availed of elsewhere. I do not know whether this is due to failure on the part of local authorities or the Garda Síochána elsewhere to comprehend the value of such notices. One of the great dangers we have at present is that traffic prohibitions of one kind or another are erected which are suitable to certain days of the week but not to others. This is the kind of thing which leads to lack of respect for signs. The Garda Síochána have statutory functions in regard to these signs and, rather than erecting signs which apply for seven days of the week, I would like to see a much greater use of the type of signs they have in Bettystown which are entirely appropriate on a small number of days of the year and if they are crucially valuable on such occasions they would be equally inappropriate on most days of the year.

Similar situations arise from time to time in the Dublin area but I have yet to see any signs of a similar kind. Likewise, I urge that the gardaí be equipped with ample signs to indicate the location of traffic accidents. It is unfair to the gardaí themselves to be required to investigate accidents, take measurements on roads and so on without adequate warning being given to approaching motorists of the existence of the accident or the presence on the road of members of the gardaí. It is also unfair to approaching motorists not to be warned of obstructions lying ahead. If the money under subhead H is being devoted to anything of that kind in the provision of what I might call dynamic traffic signs we certainly would welcome it. It is very necessary in the interests of the Garda Síochána and the road-using public. I commend this Estimate to the House.

On behalf of the Labour Party I wish to support the Estimate. As I said on a previous occasion I want to say how glad I am to pay tribute to the gardaí and the work they are doing. Under extreme provocation most of them behave very well. It appears as if they are sometimes pretty scarce. If it is a question of a shortage of gardaí it should be possible to call up for training applicants who have been examined and passed but are left waiting a very long time. If the training period could be speeded up it would help considerably to relieve gardaí who appear to be asked to do more than they should be asked to do. Could the Minister say if there is a special section of training dealing with courtesy because, while 99.9 per cent of the gardaí, particularly those with some service, appear to be very courteous and patient under provocation, the odd one seems to spoil the whole picture.

I had two examples of this recently. One was when I was coming to Dublin the week before last. Repairs were proceeding on a section of the road and a young garda was routing city-bound traffic around the repairs, or at least, the outside lane, and making a very good job of it. There were two traffic lights there at this period. The following morning as I approached, the lights changed just as I passed them. The car in front of me stopped before the road repairs and as there was a car behind me I had no option but to drive up alongside the first car to free the other road coming into the intersection. The garda there signalled me up, stopped me and said: "Red means stop. I saw you sneaking up behind that fellow. Go on, now." I could have done a number of things but after a little contemplation I did none of them and drove on to the city.

This young man would obviously make his living in various ways but being a garda is not one of them. He should have been taught a little manners. This sort of thing, having happened to me, would undoubtedly happen to many people passing that place. If he was in bad humour at having to go on traffic duty at that hour of the morning he should not take it out on motorists. Incidentally, the question of the amount of patrol duty that the gardaí are able to do makes one wonder whether there are sufficient gardaí to do it. Six or eight months ago there was a car at Dublin Airport crossing. It had either been stolen or deposited there for some other reason. It was an almost new car and it stayed there until it was taken away bit by bit. I am sure the gardaí saw it there. I could see it while passing by. I mentioned it to one garda and he said: "We do go out and have a look at it." Having a look at it during the day did not prevent it disappearing. Somebody owned that car. About three weeks ago, in almost the same position, another car appeared which was obviously stolen and abandoned. It has also been disappearing. The wheels are now gone and no doubt the windscreen and doors will follow. If the gardaí see a car abandoned for a couple of days I think they should take the necessary steps to ensure that it is not left until vandals make away with it.

Deputy Ryan referred to the job being done at Bettystown during the summer. I want to congratulate the gardaí on that job also. We have a very good development association and a good county council and when we need assistance we simply ask the Garda to help. Not only do they put up signs to show where it is possible to park and where it is not, but if the traffic is too dense, out of their very sparse Force they put gardaí along the route to direct traffic at peak periods. We are very grateful to them because they make it possible for people to get into and out of this very popular seaside resort. Much more of this work could be done in other parts of the country; it is simply a matter of co-operation.

Most of the gardaí are very courteous. I find any of them I have any dealings with, meeting them and discussing things with them, are people to whom you can talk. The senior officers are usually very sensible men who appear to have been promoted because they are good public relations officers also. It would, therefore, be a pity if the type of thing I mentioned earlier were allowed to spoil the record of a good Force.

While it may be outside this Estimate, may I ask the Minister if it has finally been decided to abandon hope of having a Garda Band again? If so, what has happened the instruments? Does the Minister know? Is there a hope that at some future date we may again see a Garda Band in operation?

The Minister refers in his Estimate to an additional sum of £80,000 required for subhead B mainly to cover increases in rates of locomotion—a very nice word—and subsistence allowances and increased removal expense rates which were made retrospective to July, 1964. All these changes in rates were negotiated under the Garda Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme. I quite agree that this is right but is there an effort being made now to keep the rates of pay for gardaí in line with rates outside? I think it was before the Minister took over the Department, but he will be aware that on a previous occasion the fact that nobody seemed to worry very much until it was almost too late meant that there were many dissatisfied gardaí, who found they could do very much better elsewhere. As a result many very good officers were lost to the Force because they were not adequately remunerated for the work they were doing.

It is no harm to mention again that all the detection work in the world will not help unless the Minister can do something about regularising the treatment of young brats taken to court for doing things for which they should receive severe punishment. Despite all the efforts of the gardaí to bring these people to book the gardaí usually end up disgusted by a district justice or somebody of that kind giving the young lads a lecture and saying: "You will be a good boy; you will not allow that to happen again." Off he goes and within hours he is stealing cars, breaking into places or, worse still, smashing up private and public property. I, for the Labour Party, support the proposal.

I wish to intervene briefly, mainly to put on record how much I deplore the proposal to reduce the strength of Garda barracks in rural areas. The Minister himself is a rural Deputy coming from the west of Ireland and he appreciates to the same extent as I do the part the Garda Síochána play in the rural community. I was greatly dissatisfied with the proposals which were brought before us recently to close down in some cases country stations and in other cases to reduce the strength of Garda stations in rural areas.

I am afraid this is not a matter for the Supplementary Estimate.

This does not arise on the Supplementary Estimate.

I think I have it on the record anyway.

If it did arise we would all have had a go at it.

I do not want to open that door just now.

The Minister appreciates that this is something we would want to be very careful about. I hope for a change of thought in this matter.

That is principally what I rose to speak on. There are other matters appertaining to the Garda force which I could mention now. I will not, as I know the House does not wish to be delayed at this time. Before I sit down I should just like to wish our Garda oarsmen every success on their trip to London for the Putney Head of the River race.

I shall be very brief. First of all, I should like to apologise for not being here when the Minister spoke. I was not aware that he was getting up and I did not appreciate that he was going to be so brief in his comments.

I do not want to open any discussion on this but I think it should be said—I referred to it on the main Estimate— that in this country, particularly nowadays, when there are few pictures being painted in public other than pictures of gloom and depression, perhaps too few of us recognise that one of the big success stories in this country was the establishment and development of the unarmed Garda force. The country as a whole owes a debt of gratitude to the Garda force which has been established and developed. It would be entirely wrong if in this House we were to view the Garda force at any time through mean or niggardly eyes. I am not suggesting that that has been the attitude of the House in dealing with the Garda because I think, by and large, even though we may overlook the origin and the development over the years of the Garda force, there is a real appreciation, both inside the House and outside it, of the valuable services that are rendered day in, day out, night in, night out, by the members of our unarmed Garda force.

One of the reasons I am saying that is because I want to ask the Minister, and I think it comes within the confines of this discussion, the position with regard to the question of Garda pensions and pensions of retired members of the Garda. The Minister in his opening remarks referred to the fact that this Estimate was for salaries and expenses of the Garda Síocnána, including pensions. I think I am correct in saying that, other than that reference to pensions, there was nothing further in the Minister's statement with regard to them. I want to ask the Minister in a general way what is the present position and what are the prospects in so far as Garda pensions are concerned.

I only want to make one other point. I will do it very briefly, because Deputy Tully has already made the point. Deputy Tully is quite right when he points out that the gardaí on traffic duty or "on the beat" have in some sense a definite public relations job to do. Certainly, in my experience the gardaí on display, whether it be on traffic duty or "on the beat", do perform not only the immediate task assigned to them but do a good public relations job for the administration of justice and the preservation of law and order. If one does come across the occasional garda, who for one reason or another, whether it is that he is inexperienced or that he is not for some reason in a particularly good mood, dealing with traffic or anything else who is a bit abrupt or discourteous, the bad impression it creates goes far beyond the particular incident concerned. One garda who may be discourteous at a particular traffic point to one or two users of the road can give a bad impression which will extend far beyond the garda concerned and may give an unfavourable impression of the Garda force as a whole. In that sense Deputy Tully is right when he refers to the public relations aspect of the work of the gardaí. Generally speaking they are, both in that sense and in the actual performance of their particular tasks or assignments, doing a good job. The Garda force in this country do give a very favourable impression not only to our own people but to visitors from abroad.

In so far as we are concerned—I mentioned this on the main Estimate —if an increase in the Garda force is necessary, if better pay or better conditions are necessary to attract recruits into the Garda if further recruiting is necessary, then my own view is that we should not hesitate to provide the necessary funds for that purpose.

I should very much have liked to have had an opportunity of supporting the views of Deputy Molloy with regard to the closing of rural Garda stations. I shall not open a discussion on it other than to say that very often the excuse advanced for the closing of Garda stations is the absence of crime in a particular area. I have urged on the Minister's predecessors that it is worthwhile considering if the true position is not that the very existence of the Garda station is the reason for the absence of crime in the area. It seems to me that it is possibly putting the cart before the horse to use the absence of crime in a particular area as a justification for closing down the Garda station. However, as you have very properly pointed out, Sir, this is not a matter that falls for discussion on this Supplementary Estimate, and I suppose we will all have an opportunity again of giving our views on that subject.

I should like to thank the House for the manner in which they have received this Supplementary Estimate and, in particular, for the tributes paid by Deputies from all Parties to the Garda Síochána. I fully subscribe to the views expressed by Deputies as to the general reputation of our gardaí amongst the people. Indeed, one would want to have my experience of the appeals I get, of the deputations I receive week in and week out, from different communities asking that gardaí are not changed. It is the participation of the gardaí in community effort which is making such a very big impact throughout the country today. From the correspondence I receive from certain towns one would imagine that the local GAA club, the local boxing club, even the local dramatic club and other social activities would all fold up if Garda so-and-so was changed. That is about the best tribute that could be paid to our police force, that they are participating so much and so effectively, particularly in rural Ireland, in the activities of the community amongst whom they live and serve. While the gardaí know that it is one of their occupational hazards that they must be changed from time to time, it is heartening to me in another sense to find that the general public express such regard for them.

I particularly liked at this time the objections expressed by some Deputies to the attempts by some people to brand our police force with the label of police brutality. I saw this outside my own Department not so very long ago. A number of young people— perhaps that is the wrong expression; it was difficult to tell, between the length of their beards, the colours of their shirts and the length of their hair what age group they belonged to— marched up to my Department and before they even got near a garda they were carrying protest signs with "Police Brutality" printed on them. In these days it is heartening to hear Deputies publicly paying tribute to our Garda force. It shows that this type of stunting, which may be got up for outside consumption, will not wash with the general public or with their representatives here in this House.

Deputy Ryan asked me what connection the Road Fund had with the Estimate for the Garda, and he sought clarification of the payments from the Road Fund to the Garda Vote under subhead A. The Road Fund pays to the Garda force certain sums in recognition of the time spent by the Force on road traffic duty. The main payment is a small percentage, at present two per cent, of the income of the Road Fund. Also, the proceeds of fines for road traffic offences are, in the first instance, paid into the Road Fund and then transferred to the Garda Vote.

Deputy Tully asked whether the young gardaí are instructed in courtesy. Indeed, on my very first visit to their training centre in Templemore, I put that very question to those concerned there. They expressed the same views as Deputy Tully and other Deputies have expressed on the importance of inculcating courtesy in our young gardaí or, putting it another way, the development of public relations in dealing with the public. I was told that this was being stressed in the training of these young men, that in order to be successful in their careers they would have to rely on the co-operation of the public. They are taught to be courteous on all occasions. I suppose any Force of this size would always get the odd-manout, and unfortunately Deputy Tully came across one of them. I think in the main he would really except them from the general run of gardaí.

Very much so.

Deputy Tully said the garda to whom he referred was a young man. There is an old saying that it is hard to put an old head on young shoulders. Looking around these days, sometimes it is hard to put an old head on old shoulders, and perhaps Deputy Tully came across the wrong example of a young man.

Deputy Tully suggested that the rates of pay for the Garda should be in line with those outside. Up to this, Garda pay has been a matter for the Garda Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme, and the Government have honoured in full all agreements and findings which emerged from that scheme. Since I came in as Minister for Justice I have, as the Deputy knows, set up the Conroy Commission especially to go into all these questions of pay and so on. The Commission is at present working and it would be wrong for me to say anything further about it except that I would not have set up that Commission in the first instance unless I felt there was a general need for a broad look at the structure.

Does the Minister expect the report from the Conroy Commission within months?

I do not expect any long delay. I cannot say exactly when they started work, but I expect their deliberations to be over within a period of six months or so.

Six months from now?

Yes. It may possibly be sooner.

It could be important because in six months time there could be a very drastic change in wage and salary scales.

The Deputy will appreciate that part of the agreement I made with the Garda Representative Body was that while this Commission would be working they would get the nine per cent that was awarded to the public service, and that was accepted as being a fair approach. I hope this Commission will do a very thorough job. We have got as impartial a Commission as could be devised by me and I am relying on them to do a good job. I do not expect a very long delay. I want, as I say, the job to be thoroughly done. Deputy Tully inquired about the Garda Band. I understand the instruments were given as a gift to the Garda Benevolent Association and the committee are in control of the instruments. As far as I know they still have them.

Are there training facilities given to them? That was one of the issues at the time.

I think the instruments were handed over to the committee to do as they wished with them. The decision was taken before I took charge of the Department. I did not anticipate that this question might arise.

I quite appreciate that. The Minister for Education now, who is sitting behind the Minister for Justice, did say—he was responsible at the time—that he would make facilities for training available if the Garda wanted to keep the band together on a voluntary basis.

I could not make any statement on this without examining the matter fully. Deputy Molloy travelled a line of country into which I do not propose to follow him now. I thank him for his tribute to the Garda. I am sure he will appreciate that I am getting constant demands, from city Deputies in particular, for more and more gardaí here in Dublin to deal with increasing crime and increasing vandalism. It is a question of utilising the Force as effectively as we possibly can, and if manpower were not so scarce, I would be inclined to agree with the view expressed by some Deputies that it is better to have at least one local garda rather than close down barracks completely.

The Minister is aware that the closing of barracks has created problems for social welfare recipients because they used to sign on in the local Garda barracks. Now they have to travel several miles. George's Cross is a case in point.

We normally send out gardaí to the different areas to facilitate the social welfare recipients.

I suggested that that should be done, but it is not being done.

If the Deputy will give me particulars I will look into the matter. I know in my own part of the country the gardaí go out to the different areas in which stations have been closed down.

Deputy Michael O'Higgins raised the question of Garda pensions. Pensions are a matter for the Minister for Finance. For some years now all public service pensioners—civil servants, gardaí, teachers and so on—have had their pensions increased on a common basis by the Minister for Finance. There was a small saving in the provision for superannuation this year because as many as anticipated did not retire. The Supplementary Estimate is, as I said, largely of a routine character and part of it represents extra payments which arose from agreements made during the year under review between the Garda Representative Body and my Department.

I thank the House once more for the unanimous tributes paid to the Garda force. These tributes will be appreciated by the men. They have, as has been said, exercised commendable restraint in the face of very grave provocation.

Would the Minister comment on the stolen cars abandoned in good repair and allowed to stay on main roads until vandals remove them bit by bit? There is one at present at Collinstown.

Garda stations have a list of stolen cars and I find it very difficult to think they would not notify the owner.

Obviously they have not found this car. I see it every day and it is gradually disappearing. It has been there for a fortnight. It looked a perfectly good car.

It may be the property of a wise man who suddenly decided that it was no longer economic, because of the cost of repairs and so on, to go on running a car and he left it there purposely.

Vote put and agreed to.