Accountability still a foreign concept in Garda Representative Association

Nobody has been asked to step down after refusing to co-operate with a probe into an allegation of bullying and harassment, writes special correspondent Michael Clifford.

Change, if it is coming at all, is dropping slower than a wet week in the Garda Representative Association (GRA). Today’s story in this newspaper is indicative that the organisation continues to languish in a bygone age when accountability was a foreign concept.

The representative body for 10,200 rank and file gardaí has called in a human resources firm to investigate an allegation of bullying and harassment against of a female member.

As reported in today’s paper, the allegation is directed against four male members. Three of them are refusing to co-operate with the outside agency, Acrux Consulting.

This is an extraordinary situation in a representative body. In an organisation that was fully accountable, those refusing to co-operate might reasonably be asked to step down from their position. Such a move would have no impact on their employment as the GRA is a voluntary body to which reps are elected at district, regional, and national level. Nobody has been asked to step down.

The investigation is only getting underway over a year after the complaint was first made. There is no discernible reason for the delay.

The complaint involves a female member in what was traditionally a male bastion, alleging that she was bullied and harassed

In other organisations a sense of urgency would, in today’s world, be applied to such an investigation in order to either comfort a victim or quickly clear anybody who is deemed not to have a case to answer. Yet they do things differently in the GRA.

The manner in which the organisation is run was laid bare in a consultant’s report on which this newspaper reported last January. The report was commissioned by the GRA’s annual delegate conference in 2016, but only got underway a year later. The final result made for some disturbing reading.

A theme running through the whole report is gravy for the boys. It pointed out that in 2016, €1.46m, representing nearly half of all the GRA’s income, was spent on travel and subsistence. Two thirds of that amount went on the national body, the Central Executive Committee (CEC).

By those sums, the 31 members on the CEC pulled in an average of €25,000 a skull for their tireless work in representing their colleagues who all contribute 0.6% of their annual salary to the GRA.

A system of sub-committees is the main functioning aspect of the CEC, presumably because it would be unwieldy to have 31 members in a room formulating policy.

Each sub-committee has seven members. There is no discernible reasoning behind membership of a sub-committee, according to the Ampersand report. A sceptical reader might conclude that positions on sub-committees are handed out in an even-handed manner to ensure that everybody gets a slice of the expenses pie. On average, each CEC member is on three sub-committees, the consultant reported.

The sub-committees meet at 11 am on appointed days, despite the fact that many, if not most, of the members arrive in Dublin the previous evening or night. Perhaps they need the few extra hours to climatise to the city air in the morning.

Ampersand characterised the sub-committee meetings, with a few exceptions, as “informal/casual discussions which don’t necessarily go anywhere”. “The average cost of a sub-committee in travel expenses is €11,057. This is an expensive system, particularly where there is little measurable output,” the report states. “In an organisation where there is no training and significantly less than adequate communications and information systems, this is a serious amount of money.”

Despite the shortcomings in effectiveness and accountability, one might imagine that based on the generous expenses the CEC would be a happy ship for all on board, but that is not the case.

Ampersand uncovered a major degree of disunity on the CEC which was perturbing the district and divisional delegates as well as ordinary members.

“The perceived and observed factional position taking and voting, constant and legalistic ‘bickering’, and the apparent inability of the national body is having a significant impact on trust and confidence,” the authors report.

This conflict is reported as well known within the association, and we found that it is also known to, and has been experienced and observed by external stakeholders

(Ampersand sought submissions externally from the Policing Authority, Gsoc, the Garda Inspectorate, and the Department of Justice).

Last January the GRA did outline a way forward which would include reducing the numbers at national level from 31 to 12 and a major reduction in the sub-committee.

The Irish Examiner asked secretary general Pat Ennis how these reforms were going. In particular, we submitted questions as to whether the size of the CEC had been reduced and whether the sub-committees had been reduced in number.

The reply, from deputy secretary general Robbie Peelo — Mr Ennis was on leave — was as follows: “I’m pleased to confirm that the Association is in the process of implementing the recommendations contained in the Ampersand report and significant progress has been made in this regard. Those efforts will continue and the leadership of the Association is satisfied that the resulting improvements will help in moulding and shaping an Association worthy of its members.”

There was further stuff about being “inclusive”, “accountable”, and “modern in its approach” and “transparent and accessible to members”.

There was no response on how many continue to sit on the CEC and the sub-committees. Sources familiar with the structures have told the Irish Examiner that the 31 are still in situ on the CEC and there has been a small reduction in the number of sub-committees.

While questions may therefore linger about whether the GRA is walking the walk of accountability and transparency for its members, there is no doubt that it can still talk the talk.

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