Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Garda Retirement Age.

John Deasy

Question:

4 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the plans he has to stem the increased retirement rate within the ranks of the Garda Síochána. [17257/03]

The current situation is that all ranks within the Garda Síochána up to chief superintendent are eligible for a pension if they have a minimum 30 years service and have reached the age of 50 years. Ranks up to and including inspector must retire at 57 years of age. A retirement age of 60 applies to ranks above that level, with some exceptions providing for retirement at 65. The Commission on Public Service Pensions has recommended, among other things, that members up to the rank of inspector should have the option of being retained to a maximum age of 60 rather than 57, subject to meeting minimum health and fitness standards.

My objective is to have a fit, active and experienced force with an appropriate balance as regards age profile and experience, and I have considered the retirement ages applicable to the Garda Síochána with this aim in mind.

At the Garda Representative Association's 25th anniversary annual conference in Galway, I indicated that I am prepared to sit down with them and see whether we can negotiate a new regime whereby members of the Garda Síochána could serve until the age of 60, and I will bring such proposals to the Government. That is the state of play at present. I intend in the near future, when the legislative load which is on me at present is off my shoulder, to approach the Garda representative associations to negotiate such a package.

That will be in about five or six years.

No, I am talking about the next fortnight.

I appreciate yesterday's response to that question. That is the right thing to do and it is necessary, but the problem is bigger than that, as the Minister understands. We are facing about 600 retirements this year in the Garda Síochána, which is a massive number.

Last week it was disclosed that the Office of Public Works is spending €15 million on the refurbishment of the offices of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in St. Stephen's Green. The Minister has, on a couple of occasions, stated publicly that he simply does not have the money for extra Garda recruits and I accept that within the Government he does not make the call as far as the building programme is concerned, but the public and the gardaí certainly do not understand that.

One of the reasons the gardaí are retiring in such great numbers is that morale is very low. It is unacceptable in some of the stations around the country. When gardaí see that the Government is spending €15 million on the office in St. Stephen's Green, is it any wonder that they are retiring in these numbers? This must be a priority for the Government. The Minister can rationalise the fact that the offices need refurbishing, but he must pin-point and prioritise the real problem in the law and order area. The Garda does not have the necessary resources and manpower. The Minister cannot justify spending €15 million on the offices in St. Stephen's Green when gardaí from Kevin Street Garda station are telling me that the situation is hopeless on weekend nights, when there are three of them in the station and thousands of people on the streets, many of whom are committing public order offences.

A question please, Deputy, you are making a statement.

The Minister cannot rationalise that and he cannot justify it. Again I accept he does not make the call as far as money is concerned, but he is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and a member of the Cabinet, and he must respond to the problem.

The purpose of Question Time is to elicit information from the Minister, not to impart information to the Minister.

As the Deputy will be aware, on the subject of retirement I agree with him that the rate of retirements from the Garda Síochána has been more than we anticipated, and that may have something to do with the fact that when gardaí, who exceed the age of 50, have 30 years' service, they know that in effect the guillotine comes down on a Garda career at the age of 57 and therefore they must start looking about fairly quickly, having crossed the eligibility threshold, for other employment to occupy the rest of their working life. It seems that one of the advantages of increasing the age to 60 is that people would say: "If I can work on to 60, I will not have to start looking around in my early 50s for an alternative occupation". There are other attractions to seeking to leave An Garda Síochána early which I want to examine. One of them is this: if they work, to use an old-fashioned colloquialism, if they retire early they will effectively have the right to a contributory pension which they can obtain under the social welfare code by the time they reach the age of 65. Those are factors which obviously feed into the decision to retire and when to retire. I accept the Deputy's point that it is a serious problem for me and one to which I must face up. At the moment I am running hard to stand still and to make progress up to the 12,200 in overall Garda numbers.

The Deputy asked the question about the refurbishment of the office in St. Stephen's Green. A year ago, on the day I was appointed Minister, I was informed that very shortly thereafter the building would be evacuated because having been purchased for €25 million by the State some time prior to that, it was now proposed to re-vamp it. That has not happened yet and it may not happen for some time. I assure the Deputy that I am not in a position to command those resources, they are not available to me. The Office of Public Works, in its wisdom, may decide to expend them on maintenance of that building which is in a poor state of repair – the Deputy may come and visit it if he does not believe me—

I have been there.

If the Office of Public Works does not expend it on that purpose it will expend it on other purposes. I take the Deputy's point that the expansion of facilities at Templemore is one alternative matter for which the money could be used. If there is to be an expansion of Templemore there would need to be plans drawn up and tenders requested and public procurement, and the like. The two issues are simply not connected.

I wish to express an opinion in that regard.

Sorry, Deputy, we have spent half an hour on four questions. Deputy Gregory's Priority Question No. 5.

The money should not be expended.

I appeal to Members that when submitting questions they confine themselves to questions rather than statements. In the last half an hour, one Member has spent three and a half minutes submitting just one question to the Minister and then there is no time for a second supplementary question. Members come into the House and they are capable of asking three supplementary questions on a priority question.

Who is that?

Members of the Deputy's party. I suggest to Members that they confine themselves to short supplementary questions and then hopefully we will be able to facilitate them more than once.