It is not good enough for the Government to continually bleat that gardaí have sufficient resources when basic tools to do the job are often denied to members.
Usually, whenever gardaí feature prominently in the media, it relates to a scandal, a tribunal or a crime spree. So, it’s useful for a change to consider the danger that faces officers every single day on the beat.
Buried towards the end of a monthly status report, supplied by the Garda Commissioner to the Policing Authority at the start of April, is an incident which allegedly occurred in Dublin that underscores the inherent threats in the job.
It states that in early March, following reports from the public of a man seen brandishing a gun outside a shop, three unarmed gardaí followed a man into a house “where a struggle ensued, during which the male discharged a number of shots from the gun in the direction of the members. The members successfully restrained the male, disarmed him and secured the weapon.”
During the same incident, it is further claimed that “gardaí then located a grenade in the bathroom with the pin pulled out. An EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team attended the scene and carried out a controlled explosion on the grenade which, following examination, was determined to be faulty”.
The danger gardaí face is ever present. Back in 2007, an unarmed member of the traffic corps, Paul Sherlock, was shot and suffered serious injuries after the driver of a stolen car opened fire on him with a sawn-off shotgun during a routine traffic stop.
Many brave gardaí have also made the ultimate sacrifice and been killed in the line of duty, most recently Tony Golden, who was murdered while attempting to help the victim of domestic violence in Louth in 2015, and Adrian Donohoe, who was murdered by a criminal gang with links to dissident republicans in Louth in 2013.
Given the risks gardaí face, complaints from members that a lack of resources are hindering them, or sometimes even endangering them, should be taken extremely seriously.
Instead, what invariably happens is that politicians immediately move to assure the public that adequate resources exist without ever engaging with the substance or merits of these complaints.
This is exactly what happened yesterday when criticism was made of a lack of funding for basic necessities like equipment, training and accommodation by rank-and-file gardaí attending the annual general meeting of the Garda Representative Association.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, speaking with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ radio, insisted he was attending the AGM to “listen” to these concerns, but then undermined that commitment by persistently reiterating an “unprecedented level” of resources had been made available to gardaí.
After all, what’s the point in listening if your mind is already made up?
Mr Flanagan is correct the budget for An Garda Síochána – €1.76bn – is large but there is a difference between an overall budget and an efficiently spent budget, which directs money to plug holes and fill gaps where most needed.
Take training, for instance. Mr Flanagan glossed over the fact that on-the-job training has essentially been absent from An Garda Síochána for a decade.
According to the report from the Commission on the Future of Policing, which received a ringing endorsement from his Government, “budget cuts after the 2009 crash led not only to a recruitment freeze for nearly six years and therefore no recruit training, but also to a reduction of in-service training almost to zero”.
The report notes “established members of any profession benefit from learning about new challenges and techniques, developments in best practice, or new skills needed for new assignments”, but “An Garda Síochána has not treated training as a critical function”.
One garda interviewed yesterday raised the issue of new domestic violence legislation which criminalises, for the first time, coercive control and said gardaí were expected to implement this legislation without having received any training on how to do so. This lack of foresight and planning does a disservice not only to gardaí but to members of the public they are tasked with protecting.
If the Government and An Garda Síochána intend to treat domestic violence seriously, then surely, at a minimum, gardaí should be given training on major changes to the law.
Meanwhile, a lack of resources in the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau has been endemic for years with lengthy backlogs endangering the prosecution of those found with images of child abuse on their computers.
Earlier this year, a man appeared in court charged with possession of 2,000 images of abuse on his device, which had been seized by gardaí during a raid in August 2012.
The delay in prosecution was because it took five years to forensically examine his computer. Similar delays have been reported for years now with one Circuit Court judge, Sean Ó Donnabháin, describing an identical five-year delay as “inexcusable” back in 2016. What has changed in the interim?
How can the State claim to take crimes of this nature seriously when computers, on which images of child porn have been downloaded, are left gathering dust for years in Garda HQ due to a lack of investment?
When it comes to the safety of Garda members, the number of armed support units is an item that is high up the agenda for the GRA, but not addressed adequately by the commissioner or justice minister.
After recent violence in Drogheda, including the attempted murder of a man who was shot and seven separate petrol bomb attacks, gardaí complained the northern region’s only ASU was deployed at the Border due to the spate of ATM robberies, and was not available to support gardaí in the town.
According to GRA representatives, the existence of just one ASU per Garda region means that unarmed gardaí can often face unnecessary risk as they are the ones tasked with responding to incidents in which a weapon has been used.
The fact Ireland is in a minority of countries where rank-and-file officers are not armed is something to be proud of, but when those officers need the support of armed colleagues, it has to be available.
Like every representative body, the GRA exists to fight for its members and will always demand more that an individual government or commissioner has the power to immediately deliver.
However, when legitimate criticisms are made, which have the support of a multiplicity of independent reports, then those criticisms should be taken seriously. Not merely fobbed off with no explanation given.