Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
53. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on proposals prepared by the Garda Commissioner in relation to the potential retirement of 1,200 gardaí before February 2012; the discussions he has had with the Garda Commissioner in relation to redeployment of gardaí to stations that have been identified in this report as potentially losing currently serving gardaí; and if he will give assurances that no Garda station will have to close as a result of these plans. [24996/11]
54. Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of gardaí who have applied to take early retirement within the next six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24926/11]
The latest available figures show that Garda strength stands at just over 14,100, with approximately 2,000 civilian support staff. There are also 819 members of the Garda Reserve. As of Friday, 16 September 2011, some 380 members of An Garda Síochána had left or declared their intention to leave the force in 2011. As members intending to retire must give three months’ notice, we will know the final figure for this year’s retirements by the end of this month. Similarly, retirements to be taken before the end of February 2012 when pension entitlements will change, should be known by the end of November. Generally, members of the Garda who have reached 50 years of age and have at least 30 years of service are eligible to retire on a full pension. Some 1,200 members of the force currently fall into this category.
While we do not know yet how many Garda members will retire this year, and while no one expects every member who is eligible to retire to do so, it clearly makes sense for the Garda Commissioner to make contingency plans for the maintenance of policing services in the context of reduced Garda numbers. We have to remember that, under plans agreed by the previous Government as part of its compliance with the terms of the EU-IMF agreement, Garda numbers are due to be reduced to 13,000 by 2014 — they were expect to be reduced to 13,500 by the end of this year. As part of this process, the Commissioner will, of course, have to examine every option for increased efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of services. An example of this is the work currently under way under the Croke Park agreement to agree new Garda rosters to better match Garda deployment with peak policing demands.
Clearly, an examination of the opening hours and in some cases the viability of Garda stations will form part of this. The issue of the closure of some Garda stations will be a question the Garda Commissioner will have to consider as an operational matter, and it is part of the process. He may also have to consider in appropriate cases whether a better policing service could be delivered to a local community by having gardaí out on patrol instead of in a station.
I look forward to receiving the Commissioner’s proposals, which will be aimed at maximising the efficiency of the Garda Síochána, and prioritising the resources available to operational front-line policing services.
Deputy Dara Calleary: I thank the Minister for his reply. I accept that it was a decision of the previous Government to agree to the reduction of the targets but that was done on the basis of record investment in Garda numbers by that Government over a long number of years, and that was the reason there are 14,100 today. During the 1980s when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was Minister for Justice, and during the 1990s when the former Deputy, Nora Owen, was Minister, Garda stations were kept open with a force that was considerably lower than even 13,000, which is where we will end up. I regret that the Minister cannot give us a guarantee that there will be no closures.
There were reports in yesterday’s newspapers that in Donegal alone, 24 stations will close and Deputy McConalogue’s constituents want to know what will happen to them. How can the Minister state that the closure of 24 stations in one county will make for more efficient policing? Is he expecting the gardaí in the 24 stations to spend all of their time on patrol? If they do, they will be running into each other often, not catching crime. The most important deterrent is, I agree, the availability of gardaí, but it is also the visibility of gardaí.
Has the Minister — I do not expect him to release the report because I understand that involves operational issues — met with the AGSI or the GRA on this proposal? Can he give us the broad outlines, without naming specific stations, on a county-by-county basis as to where these stations have been identified or will close? Does he intend to seek the input of, or some feedback from, the Oireachtas on the Commissioner’s report?
Deputy Alan Shatter: It is extraordinarily difficult to take the Deputy’s questions seriously as he was in this House supporting a Government which signed an agreement to reduce the then Garda numbers of 14,500 to 13,500.
Deputy Alan Shatter: It was also the Deputy’s party which, in dealing with the Estimates and the finances for 2011, provided funding to the Department to pay the salaries of 13,500 gardaí as opposed to the 14,500 that were in place. It was the Deputy’s party which entered into an agreement with the IMF and the EU to reduce dramatically by 1,000 the numbers of gardaí this year in circumstances in which they had no idea how they could achieve it, there was no scheme in place to facilitate that, and as a consequence, no planning of any nature took place.
What has happened under my watch is that the Garda Commissioner has conducted a comprehensive review of the manner in which funding is being applied, looking at the maximum efficiencies that can be put in place to guarantee front-line services and to meet community needs. No decisions, I emphasise, have yet been made on the closure of Garda stations or, indeed, the curtailing of hours. What the Garda Commissioner is wisely doing is looking at stations right across the country to ascertain whether there are efficiencies that could be put in place which will ensure that trained gardaí are used to the best possible advantage and whether there are savings that can be made, for example, in circumstances in which it may be appropriate that stations close at 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock at night instead of staying open all night, in circumstances where patrol cars would still be available and where, if there is an emergency, the gardaí would be accessible on a 999 call. The stations to which the Deputy is referring are part and parcel of the review. No decision has been made to close 24 stations in County Donegal. This is alarmist talk——
Deputy Alan Shatter: ——from a party which was financially incapable of ordering its affairs in a manner which would have guaranteed even the moneys available this year to pay the membership of the Garda force the salaries to which they were entitled and which does not deserve credibility of any description.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: It is a tough start to a tough week for the Minister. While we do not yet have a final figure for the number of proposed retirements from the Garda, we know it will include some chief superintendents and probably superintendents. I realise that earlier this year the Minister gave permission to the Garda Commissioner to run what are known as promotion competitions in all ranks within the force. As a result of these competitions, panels were to be established from which future promotions might be made. It is my understanding that to make any promotions the Minister needs permission to break the ban on promotions within the Garda. Has he held any conversations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on lifting the bank on promotions within the Garda and, if so, what was their outcome?
Deputy Alan Shatter: First, I will give the Deputy some statistics in which he might be interested. To date, 28 gardaí at the rank of superintendent or higher have retired or notified their intention to retire in 2011. The Government has made six appointments to superintendent or a higher level since it took office. Additional appointments at these levels will be considered when the situation becomes clearer during the coming weeks on where matters stand with regard to retirements. As I have noted, a member of the force who has completed 30 years service and is over the age of 50 years may retire. It is stated in the Garda code that a member must give the Commissioner three months’ notice of his or her intention to retire. Therefore, it is not possible at this stage to know what the full picture will be as we move towards the end of this year or head into February.
With regard to the level of senior positions, after discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I obtained sanction for the filling of the six Garda posts mentioned. On 22 March the Government appointed one deputy Commissioner, one assistant Commissioner, one chief superintendent and three superintendents. While the moratorium on recruitment and promotions in the public service continues to apply to the Garda Síochána, the situation will be continually kept under review by the Garda Commissioner and further derogations will only be sought when deemed necessary, but the Deputy can be absolutely assured that when we have a clear view of the numbers who will retire, there will be discussions between me and the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on the appropriate and necessary arrangements to ensure we will have in place an appropriate number of gardaí at senior level.
Deputy Dara Calleary: At the end of November the Minister will be in a position to know the full numbers of gardaí retiring by the end of February. When does he envisage the Commissioner will be in a position to advise on potential closures or the reorganisation of the force? Will it be in the new year or before then?
Deputy Alan Shatter: As I understand it, the review the Commissioner is undertaking should be complete within the coming weeks. I expect to be engaged in a conversation with him arising from that review. Of course, there will be operational decisions for the Commissioner to make. In the context of my involvement as Minister for Justice and Equality, it is my obligation to ensure we have at senior level the appropriate and necessary number of gardaí to fulfil fully the necessary tasks that fall on the shoulders of An Garda Síochána and I have every confidence we will be in a position to do so. I remind the Deputy that in 2009 under the previous Government more than 700 members of the force retired in one year. The gardaí have not been found in any way wanting in their capacity to undertake the work in which they have been engaged since.
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