Thursday, 3 October 2019

Questions (4)

Mattie McGrath


4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied that sufficient consultation with members of an association (details supplied) occurred prior to the Garda restructuring proposals being published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40299/19]

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Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient consultation with members of the Garda representative associations occurred prior to the Garda restructuring proposals being published and will he make a statement on the matter? I am told by the organisations that there was no consultation with them.

As the Deputy will be aware, the new Garda operating model, announced last month by the Garda Commissioner, has been long recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and in the expert Commission on the Future of Policing report published last year.

I very much welcome and support the roll-out by the Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, and his team of the new operating model. It has the support of Government. It is not my plan, it is a Garda plan. It meets a key commitment in the four year implementation plan which is giving effect to the commission's recommendations.

As the Commissioner has said, the new operating model is specifically designed to reduce bureaucracy and devolve power and decision making from Garda headquarters to the local level. Streamlining administration and bureaucracy in this way, alongside the ongoing process of civilianisation, will result in more front-line gardaí in Tipperary and elsewhere. This also involves the deployment of more Garda sergeants and inspectors to the front line, where they can lead and supervise their teams.

I understand that, while developing the new model, the Commissioner engaged widely within the organisation, holding 67 workshops which captured the views of over 400 Garda personnel from a cross-section of urban, suburban and rural divisions, as well as all specialist and support sections and their respective chief superintendents. I am informed that the Commissioner also met the GRA and other representative bodies which were of course also consulted by the commission which developed the proposals.

These changes have been welcomed by the Garda Inspectorate, the Policing Authority, members of the Commission on the Future of Policing and many others, including people from the Deputy's constituency and the Irish Farmers Association. The Commissioner has also made clear that he and his team are willing to meet joint policing committees all over Ireland, including in Tipperary, in the weeks ahead for detailed local engagement. 

My clear view is that, in delivering this new model, the Commissioner has listened carefully to policing experts and, crucially, also to the voices of communities in Tipperary and beyond who have consistently made clear they want to see more gardaí available on the ground and I assure Deputy McGrath in that regard.

I heard the Minister speaking earlier about Garda reform. Garda reform without Garda support is a nonsense and he must know that. I will cite a statement issued by the Garda Representative Association, GRA. It stated that Government appears to be oblivious to the right of the gardaí and the communities they police to have been consulted about the location of new divisional headquarters, HQs. In case the Minister thinks I am making that up, that was in a letter from the GRA president Mr. Jim Mulligan. It said it had no confidence in Government commitment to policing reform after the announcement of the HQ downgrades. There has been no regard whatsoever for workers who found out through the media that they could soon have a new workplace 100 miles away from home. Parts of my county are 120 miles from Ennis. "Members are also hugely concerned that the lion's share of resources will be allocated to HQs." We have a huge and excellent HQ in Thurles with great staff. Where are they going to go? We will lose between ten and 20 jobs there. GRA members fear that places furthest away will be under-resourced. We will be, because Shannon will draw the gardaí from Tipperary to police Shannon in times of war all over the world.

The GRA went on to say that Garda management has also failed to follow the requirement for engagement contained in the policing reform plan of which the Minister speaks. This is what the GRA has put in its statement. For instance, the effect of the changes on the integration of policing with public and community services cannot have been subject to consultation.

I hope I was mistaken when I heard Deputy McGrath on his local radio station last week say that the people of Tipperary and his constituents would have to go to Ennis to report crime.

That is not true.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Garda stations in Tipperary will continue to be supported, augmented and strengthened as a result of this plan. An Garda Síochána is a growing organisation. There are 14,200 gardaí nationwide supported by over 2,700 Garda staff. Since the reopening of the Garda training college in Templemore, in the Deputy's constituency, approximately 2,800 new Garda members have attested and have been assigned to front-line policing duties. Garda deployments in all areas of the country have benefited from this increased recruitment, including the Tipperary division where gardaí increased from 359 at the end of 2014 to 385 at the end of August this year. This represents a 7% increase in the Tipperary area over the past five years. At the same time Garda civilian staff in Tipperary have almost doubled from 32 at the end of 2015 to a total of 62 today, which further supports the redeployment of operational Garda members from administrative and desk duties to operational policing duties where their training and expertise can be used to best effect. This model, which results from listening on the part of the Garda Commissioner and his team, will serve Ireland well by providing more agile, more responsive and more localised service in Tipperary and around the country.

That is all wishful thinking. The Minister supposedly had five categories for making this decision: population - we are double the size of Clare; geography - I have told him that Ennis is 120 miles away; crime levels - they are way higher in Tipperary than in Clare; future growth - there is a huge expansion in Tipperary; and workload - the Minister read out numbers of gardaí but he did not account for the number out sick or those who have left the service. The decision to remove the Garda HQ from Thurles is a travesty of justice for the people of Tipperary. The Minister has neglected to support them. He will not give them a new Garda station in Clonmel. The one that is there is a Dickensian kip. We have no numbers in Carrick-on-Suir, Roscrea or many other areas. The proud history of dedication of the Tipperary gardaí has been dismissed in the pursuit of a restructuring model that will only escalate the crisis we already have in Tipperary for appropriate and timely access to gardaí.

I never said people will have to go to Ennis to report a crime. The Minister is trying to twist the story. I am saying this is a retrograde step. I have given the Minister the five categories. The GRA and the gardaí on the ground do not want this. Will there be two joint policing committees, one in Tipperary and one in Shannon or does the Minister expect the councillors to travel to Ennis for meetings as well? This is a disgrace, a travesty and an insult to the proud history of the Garda service in Tipperary.

The Minister is not administratively responsible for the new operating model. He is responsible for resourcing the Garda Síochána adequately. Locations are not the Minister's brief.

I will use the example which the Deputy has repeatedly referred to in the House and beyond, since the Garda Commissioner announced the new model. Under the new model the existing Tipperary and Clare divisions will be merged and will form part of the new southern region. The Commissioner has decided that the divisional HQ will be in Ennis, County Clare. This is an operational issue. I assure the Deputy that policing services and superintendents will continue to be deployed across Tipperary and Clare and will not be centralised only in the new HQ in Ennis. Each division nationwide, including the new division of Tipperary and Clare, will have up to 800 garda members. There will be less and less bureaucracy at senior level.

The chief superintendent leading the division will have greater decision-making powers for County Tipperary. In support of the people of County Tipperary, I ask the Deputy to reflect on the positives in the plan-----

I ask the Minister to consult gardaí. He might also consult the Garda Representative Association, rather than insulting it.

-----and to continue to support me in my endeavours to fund adequately the Garda service in County Tipperary-----

The service is starved of funds.

-----and throughout the country.

The service is starved of funds. We need 20 additional gardaí in Clonmel.

I look forward to seeing him in Templemore, where 200 new gardaí will be attested.