Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
79. Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of senior Garda officers who have sought early retirement from An Garda Síochána in the past six months, in 2009; if those retiring will be replaced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40338/09]
109. Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of applications received to date in 2009 in respect of early retirement from members of the Garda, broken down by rank; the way this compares with the same period in each year from 2002; his views on reports that a significant number of senior gardaí are planning to take early retirement; the implications of such retirements for policing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40148/09]
282. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans to ensure that positions made vacant through members of the Garda Síochána retiring are filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40372/09]
I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner that the numbers of applications from members of the Garda Síochána to retire, voluntarily or on age grounds, that have been received so far in 2009, along with the numbers of members of the force who retired in each year from 2002 to 2008, are as set out in the table that follows this reply. Practically all Garda retirements, whether they occur early or late in a member’s career, are voluntary, in a technical sense, in that they do not occur on the last day of potential service. An exceptionally small number of members of the force choose to serve until the day on which they must retire compulsorily on age grounds. In summary, the figures show that the number of such voluntary retirements was 234 in 2002, 252 in 2003, 323 in 2004, 284 in 2005, 238 in 2006, 177 in 2007, 243 in 2008, with 708 applications so far in 2009.
It is clear that the current rate of retirements represents an appreciable increase on previous years. It must be remembered that the retirement age for the ranks of garda, sergeant and inspector was increased by three years, to 60, in 2006. Three years on, we may be seeing an element of deferred retirements. It is significant that even with this trend of increased retirements, 2009 will see an overall increase, to 14,716, in the number of attested gardaí with full police powers. The number of personnel who will become attested this year — over 900 — significantly exceeds the anticipated rate of retirement.
My top priority is to maintain the crime-fighting capacity of the Garda Síochána. The Garda Commissioner, who is mindful of the general moratorium on public service appointments and the need to make a strong case for any exceptions, has carefully assessed the capacity available to him at a senior level within the force. The Commissioner’s approach has been to identify those posts which are especially important for operational policing. As a result of submissions to me from the Garda Commissioner and following agreement with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, the Government has confirmed the appointments of three chief superintendents, ten superintendents and two assistant commissioners since the introduction of the moratorium. The Commissioner is carefully monitoring the situation and will continue to assess the policing capacity available to him in light of ongoing developments. My officials and I will remain in close touch with him to ensure he continues to be in a position to maintain a viable command structure.
Deputy David Stanton: Is the Minister concerned about the loss of experience and expertise to the Garda Síochána, especially from its senior ranks? Can he guarantee the House that front-line services will not be affected? When gardaí retire from the front line, those positions should be filled rather than left vacant. Can he give any reason, apart from the 2006 change in the retirement age, for the increase in retirements? Does he agree that gardaí may be retiring because they are worried about the possibility of lump sum payments being taxed in the future? Is that a factor?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I refer to the use of technology, for example. I have given the House figures to demonstrate that more people are joining the Garda Síochána this year than are leaving the force. The number of gardaí in the State will reach an all-time high of 14,800 later this year, despite the fact that the number of retirements will be greater than it has been in previous years, as a result of the commitment of the Government over recent years to increase the strength of the force. It is clear that the effects of the moratorium on recruitment will be kept under review. I have mentioned that the Government has agreed to make an exception to the moratorium in line with the case that was made to the Minister for Finance. It has sanctioned the filling of a number of senior positions to ensure there is a proper command structure. The Garda Commissioner and I are satisfied that the force has the required resources. We will keep the situation under review.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: The Minister referred earlier to the number of gardaí on the ground. Dundalk must be very well supplied with gardaí if the Minister thinks there are many gardaí on the ground. If the Minister visits my constituency, he will not see many gardaí on the ground. The gardaí in my area are entirely over-stretched in terms of numbers, etc. I do not know how the Minister can be so complacent. Is it not the case, on the basis of the figures the Minister has given the House, that more than three times the average number of gardaí will retire from the force this year, the end of which we have not reached? If three times as many gardaí plan to retire in 2009 as in any of the previous seven or eight years, we cannot say it is not an unusual phenomenon. If the Minister for Finance does not intend to tax the lump sum, would it not be helpful for him, or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to make a statement to that effect at this point, in the interests of helping the Garda to retain its experience and expertise?
Deputy Dermot Ahern: It was suggested by the Commission on Taxation — it may have been in the McCarthy report — that in the case of a public sector lump sum of over €200,000, the balance of the gratuity over that amount should be taxed. I suspect that the vast majority of gardaí would not be affected by such a move. It is probable that those at the very top of the Garda are the only people in the force who receive gratuities of over €200,000. If the recommendation in question were to be implemented by the Minister for Finance in the forthcoming budget, I can hazard a guess that it would not affect anyone.
I am not answerable for the life choices made by individual gardaí when they are contemplating whether to retire. If a garda has completed 30 years of service and has reached the age of 50, he or she can retire. In such circumstances, he or she will receive a pension of half of his or her existing salary for the rest of his or her life, along with a tax-free gratuity of one and a half times his or her salary. People have to make their own choices.
On the general issue, I accept that the current level of retirement is unprecedented. Equally, there has been an unprecedented level of recruitment to the Garda Síochána. The net figures for this year will show that Garda numbers are going up. The McCarthy report did not indicate that there should be a reduction in Garda numbers.
I remind Deputy Rabbitte that his party colleague, Deputy Sherlock, recently said we cannot bury our heads in the sand. He suggested that the Government should actively deal with the public sector wage bill. He specifically referred to the need to examine allowances and practices within the HSE and the Garda. The Labour Party is having it every way, to a certain extent. It is complaining that there are not enough gardaí while Deputy Sherlock is making comments like those to which I have referred. Equally, Fine Gael is calling for extra this and extra that at a time when Deputy Bruton is saying we should be curtailing expenditure.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I am concerned that the Minister might have left the impression with senior gardaí in anticipation of retirement and indeed wider than that through the entire public sector that they might relax now and take the Minister’s assurance as an assurance that the lump sum will only be taxed in excess of €200,000. I would be concerned that the Minister would have an opportunity to clarify that because he could be the cause of a wave of complacency throughout the public service if they said that a senior Minister of such rigorous composure as the Minister Justice, Equality and Law Reform assures public servants that they will only be hit if the lump sum exceeds €200,000. Perhaps the Minister might thank me for giving him the opportunity to make plain that that is not what he meant. On the other hand if it is what he meant, it is fair that the public service and its unions should know it now. It might be helpful in the context of the discussions going on with the Taoiseach and others at Government Buildings.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: Perhaps the Deputy did not read the report of the Commission on Taxation. That report stated that any gratuity in excess of €200,000 should be taxed and that anything less than €200,000 should not be. If the Minister were to implement that, it would not affect any of the gardaí, apart, perhaps, from the Garda Commissioner and a few assistant commissioners.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I can assure the Minister that I have read it. I can also assure him that I read the McCarthy report, which is not something one would divine from hearing the Ministers who sponsored and paid for it, and have since disowned it.
Deputy Joe Carey: I have listened to the Minister respond. Does he agree that there is an enormous age profile disparity? Of the 181 Garda superintendents, 101 have spent more than 30 years in the service and are eligible for early retirement. On the other hand 40% of the force have less than five years’ experience. A crisis is emerging, which the Government has caused. Gardaí are running out of the force; there is a brain drain. What is the Minister doing about it?
Deputy Denis Naughten: Based on the Minister’s figures there will be a trebling in the loss of knowledge from the Garda Síochána in the current year. Given that specialist units such as CAB, the new armed unit and so forth needed to be developed, how many gardaí are carrying out day-to-day general policing duties on the ground? In my constituency and in every other constituency we are not seeing a dramatic increase in the number of gardaí on the ground carrying out day-to-day Garda duties as the Minister seems to have in County Louth.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: If the Deputy tables a parliamentary question he will discover that in every division there has been an exponential increase in gardaí, including in the Deputy’s constituency. I would put on a bet with him that the numbers have increased in his area.
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