Gardaí struggling to repay debts because of public-sector pay cuts could be vulnerable to corruption, a rank and file leader warned today.
PJ Stone, general secretary of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), said international experience has shown low-paid forces are susceptible to “being got at”.
Cash-strapped officers want to overturn regulations which ban them from certain part-time jobs and threaten dismissal over civil debts, such as mortgage arrears.
“You can’t squeeze them on the one hand, where they’re not in a position to pay their debts, and then on the other side of that introduce a strict discipline code which could effectively mean they might lose their jobs as a result of that difficulty,” said Mr Stone.
The GRA leader wants an overhaul of rules in the Garda code which, he suggested, could lead to corruption among financially struggling officers.
“There is always the likelihood – and it has been proved in other countries where you pay police forces at a rate of pay that puts them in a vulnerable place – that there is a risk of people being got at and that’s a fact of life,” he said.
Calls for the rule changes are among a number of motions on financial hardship to be discussed at the GRA’s annual conference in Limerick city.
On the opening night, Mr Stone accepted there were certain part-time occupations that would not “gel” well with being in the Garda.
However, he insisted there was a need for relaxing the regulations, including restrictions on officers working in the same district where they live, which he said made travel costly.
“You cannot have a situation where members of the force are put into a place where they might not want to be in terms of their ability to pay their lawful debts,” he said.
“That has to be addressed in terms of some sort of alleviation of the Garda code, or conditions applicable to contracts.”
Mr Stone said the GRA’s incoming central executive committee will decide on whether to endorse or reject the Croke Park public-sector pay deal.
They will make a definite recommendation and ballot all 11,600 rank and file members, he added.
The GRA leader said there were issues in the deal that needed to be clarified in relation to changed working practices, but he refused to indicate his opinion of the agreement.
“We are not here to incite or inflame or get people to do things they are not comfortable with,” he said.
“I don’t want to be the first one to swim the channel when it’s full of sharks, I need to know exactly where this deal is going.
“I need to have some comfort that the deal itself will carry.”
Mr Stone said if GRA members reject the deal, then they would continue “in an incremental way, our campaign of resistance” against pay cuts.
Referring to this year’s conference theme – 'Angry, Betrayed and Disillusioned' - he added: “In my view that’s not a very healthy position for a police force to be in, and particularly a young police force.”