By Eamon Delaney
With the Gardai, events and revelations come quick. Two weeks ago, while we were all focused on the Ministerial casualties of the whistleblower row, an extraordinary thing happened : it was announced that the garda overtime budget had been reached and overtime was being cancelled for Christmas !
Garda management didn’t provide someone to explain this amazing decision to RTE’s Morning Ireland, and so the Garda Representative Association (GRA) had a full run out, arguing that the criminals had been given a Christmas present and free rein would ensue for burglaries and assaults. There wasn’t much sense of responsibility or that this could be an open invitation to commit crime.
When this important point was put later to GRA’s John O’Keeffe, he flapped it away and said that the overuse of overtime was because there weren’t enough Gardai, despite the recent budget announcements of more recruitment.
This is an incredible way for a Garda body to operate over their pay and conditions. But O’Keeffe was the GRA spokesperson who also treated us recently to a lengthy and comical denial on RTE TV (pictured above) that the Gardai had engaged in any fake breath tests at all.
If you can get way with it, then why not, and before the end of that day (Thursday), the Gardai had got their way and another €48m in overtime was allocated.
The Government argued that the shortfall was always to come from the 2018 budget and that garda management should have known this. Obviously, this begs serious questions. But so does the way the Government can just pull another supplementary figure from the back of the couch and throw it into Garda overtime.
Michael Martin of Fianna Fail asked how the Government didn’t see this coming. But how how did FF not see it coming, given that in April, garda overtime in Dublin already was up by almost 60%, at €60m. Yes, 60%!
The figure was almost double the €38.4 million spent in the same period last year. It compares to an overtime spend of €90 million for the entire of 2016 and is €19 million more than the €41.4 million overtime bill for all of 2012. These are stunning figures and yet no one is talking about them. Just as no one seems to have seen the coming pre Xmas shortfall in overtime. Its still all about who saw what emails at cabinet.
In reality, the GRA, and AGSI (the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors) seem to partly run the day to day operations of the gardai, in the absence of clear management, are availing of the overtime facility to ramp up pay. In some cases, this can double basic income.
One sergeant in the Dublin metropolitan region earned €49,098 in overtime payments for the six month period – equivalent to a year’s basic pay for some sergeants where pay rates range from €44,725 to €51,385 per annum. All the top overtime earners are in the Dublin metropolitan region and a further 16 earned overtime payments between €30,000 and €40,000.
The total spend on overtime in the Dublin metropolitan region for the first six months of this year totals €26.3 million – an increase of 43% on the €18.4 million spent last year. This, it is claimed, is driven mainly by monitoring the gangland Kinahan-Hutch feud.
Indeed, the escalating costs go back to the extraordinary pay and pensions deal that the Gardai got earlier this year, when they threatened to go on strike, an amazing threat which showed their industrial relations power.
But the key is that a major part of the overtime budget is now taken up by ‘parade time’ where members turn up 15 minutes before their shift to be apparently briefed on their duties. The outdated practice was stopped in the 1980s but resumed this year after the pay negotiations. But it seems that no specific provisions were made to cover the huge cost of funding this additional quarter of hour per shift, so the payments had to come from the overtime budget.
Traditionally, the two big items in overtime spending were crime investigation and court duties, but this year ‘parade time’ was the second biggest item.
This is a ridiculous carry on and makes one wonder where the garda budget is heading. Have we learned anything at all from the economic crash of 2011 and the antiquated and costly work practises indulged in by our timid Governments. It seems not.
Meanwhile, last week, we had the GSOC report into the wrongful cancellation of thousands of speeding tickets confirming that it was a large scale historical problem, but it would be too expensive to investigate further. And anyway, many of the Gardai are now retired!
This follows the decision to take no action on the two million fake breath tests. It is amazing, depressing stuff and one wonders if there is any will in Government, or in any political party, to take on our dysfunctional police force and the representative bodies the GRA and AGSI which appear to run the force – as they wish.
It is also depressing the way politicians and commentators appear to constantly give a complete let-off to regular gardai and sergeants and focus entirely on management, and even, indeed, only on the Commissioner himself, or herself, as if that would change things.
As with the health service, there is an unwillingness to look at the role and power of the trade unions, which is what the GRA and AGSI are by default.
For example, for years now, these bodies, have made extraordinary statements on pay, coming out with horror stories about their lack of equipment and money, almost as fraudulent it seems as those fake breath tests. In fact, the Horgan report, released after (why, after?) the pay award to gardai last year, revealed how just how favourable was the working situation of our police, especially on pensions..
In 2015, the cost of the garda superannuation scheme was €311m, of which less than 12% came from garda contributions.
To fund this in after-tax income the Gardai would need to have been paid an additional €40,000, bringing total remuneration of the average garda to the equivalent of in excess of €100,000 before tax.
On top of this, we have the extra income that the Gardai can get from an overtime budget that is running out of control, and is danger of becoming like our health budget, with no accountability of restraint. We have to assert control of this quickly or, like the health service, it will get to a point beyond meaningful reform.
First published in The Times (Irish edition) on 6 December 2017