In raising my concerns and those of the Garda Síochana regarding the proposed performance, development and review system I wish to offer positive criticism. This is a new Garda management proposal which requires close critical consideration. A similar system was tried in the UK. The scheme introduced there was pay related but, thankfully, the one proposed by the Garda management is not. However, it is goal related. The review documentation stresses that goals are at the heart of the scheme. It states that goals, which can be translated to mean prosecutions, can be quantified and must be set at a higher level than usual. The performance of each garda will be reviewed every six months to determine whether he or she had achieved his or her goals. It will also be used to set new goals at a higher level.
It would be a most unhealthy development if members of the Garda Síochana felt they must prosecute in order to advance in their careers. With these points in mind gardaí have, understandably, claimed in recent months that the proposed PDR gives them targets for convictions and could lead to the abandonment of investigations into serious crime in favour of seeking and achieving easier convictions for minor offences.
We are well aware that over the last two decades the level of violent crime has more than doubled. For the first time the number of indictable offences is set to exceed 100,000. That is a mammoth figure. By any criteria this level of crime is unacceptable and requires immediate action. This new proposal will not aid the smooth running of the force. In a recent address to the Garda Commissioner the President of the Garda Representative Association expressed grave concern at what his organisation sees as an attempt to introduce factory floor techniques into a caring profession. He stated:
We do not manufacture ball bearings, nuts and bolts or even motor cars. You cannot measure, by way of a time and motion study, what we create. We provide a service. We do not have an end product unless the collection of prosecutions, charges and summons are to become an end in themselves.
I accept, as do my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, that in many cases a review system is valuable. There are many arguments in favour of the Garda management proposal, for example, to evaluate performance against expectations and objectives, to discuss problems and find solutions, to receive appropriate praise or recognition, to assess training needs and to provide an opportunity to discuss development, job change and promotion prospects. However, there are many factors which require considerable critical evaluation. For example, senior Garda management has adopted too simplistic an approach in the development and implementation of the PDR system; it is too narrow and limited in its approach and was developed without the input of all members.
Clear pitfalls which should be avoided and which beset many review systems include staff hostility, conflict of objectives, complex paper work, subjectivity and no review of the proposed system. In order to avoid some of these pitfalls I echo the suggestions already put forward by some members of the Garda Síochána. Possible solutions to the questionable PDR system include a professional review of the various jobs within the force, a constant review of the jobs in question, identification of career paths and a commitment to a continuous learning programme among others. Time and experience inform us that two key elements are essential pre-requisites in the successful functioning of any performance review system. They are inter-personal skills and appropriate systems and forms. There should be close critical consideration of the PDR system. We must ensure that the two key elements are central to it otherwise individual gardaí will feel alienated from the public.