From Irish Independent Saturday 7th. July 2018 – By Mick Carty
SOME 10 months after the shock resignation of Nóirín O’Sullivan, the protracted and comprehensive process of selecting a Garda Commissioner has finally concluded.
The appointment of Commissioner of An Garda Síochána will be made by the Government in September.
While I have advocated in these pages the suitability of somebody from inside the force, the selection of Drew Harris cannot be faulted in that, without question, he has an admirable history in policing, both as an operational policeman and as a reformer.
We all wish him well and I have no doubt he will get all the support and assistance he requires from the Garda force in general, and senior management in particular.
It is fair comment that he has an unenviable task in that he faces enormous and varied challenges.
There is an understandable clamour for reform.
In my view the most critical task is restoring public confidence in the force.
Although, according to some recent surveys, confidence has not fallen below a critical level, nonetheless, it is seriously dented.
And once public confidence has been lost, research has shown it can be quite difficult to regain.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance that this issue be addressed as a priority.
For a police force to be effective in safeguarding the public, confidence is critical, in that the public are the key sources of information.
Trust and confidence are vital to the operation of any crime control and law enforcement strategy.
Moreover, it has been shown that a community which has trust in the police is more likely to obey the law, report crimes and to generally assist in terms of law enforcement.
Restoring trust can only be achieved by good quality community engagement.
This involves gardaí meeting the community on a daily basis and responding to requests for assistance in a helpful and respectful way.
Put simply, having the personnel to provide a proper policing service to its public.
This can only be accomplished by having sufficient men and women adequately trained to meet these demands.
And whether you talk with members of the public, gardaí themselves or indeed Garda management, the story is similar – an acute shortage of frontline staff, particularly in rural areas.
Secondly, the restoration of morale is now vital.
A recent survey revealed that 86pc of the force membership felt that morale was low or very low.
This is a disturbing statistic in that all gardaí should be eager and willing to do a good job in serving the community. For such a proportion of the force to state otherwise, there is something wrong with the organisation in general or its leadership in particular.
A number of factors have contributed to the low morale in the force and the declining public confidence, including:
■ The reduction in Garda numbers; ■ Closing of rural Garda stations; ■ Restricted Garda budgets, including cuts to members’ pay;
■ A failure to structure the force to meet current policing demands.
The constant criticism featuring on the front pages of most newspapers and the ongoing discussions on radio and television programmes has portrayed the Garda as an organisation incapable of functioning to the standards required of a modern, effective police service.
Firstly, the significant cuts in resources in terms of Garda manpower and equipment have increased the workload.
This, when allied to the increased sophistication in relation to policing such as the use of technology, and the level of proof required in court, has certainly caused some resentment.
The lack of clerical assistance has meant that gardaí themselves are swamped with paperwork and therefore spend long hours typing up reports.
According to a recent report by the Garda Inspectorate, the force is 30 years behind other forces in terms of modern methods, capability and resources.
There are a number of Garda stations in the country that do not have a computer.
And all this gibberish and spin is causing growing bemusement and frustration on the frontline.
Moreover, I understand that there are about 46 reports lying in Garda headquarters with valid recommendations in relation to enhancing the capability of the Garda as an organisation.
Why are they just left lying there and not given effect?
In order to restore morale and enhance public confidence, which are two sides of the same coin, may I suggest the new Garda Commissioner undertakes the following measures:
1 Examine the Garda structure, including the number and distribution of senior management;
2 At present a significant amount of the district officers’ time is spent in the District
Court prosecuting cases in mostly minor offences. The district officers’ job is the managing of a district, not spending long days in court;
Make an all-out effort to employ a significant number of clerical staff and distribute them throughout the State;
Implement the reforms as recommended by the Garda Inspectorate.
Last year, the Government appointed a special commission on the future of policing in Ireland.
Its report is due in September, which will be a good starting point for the new Garda Commissioner.
I advise that he gives it some very careful study.
Undoubtedly, Mr Harris is undertaking a formidable job of work.
However, with the backing of the Justice Minister and the provision of adequate resources, given his track record, he will be an outstanding success.
Michael Carty is a retired Chief Superintendent in An Garda Síochána. A former head of the ERU, he was personal assistant to Commissioner Pat Byrne and served overseas as a police adviser in the UN