Gardaí feel ‘disconnected’ and ‘disillusioned’

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Gardaí are unwilling to speak out about wrongdoing or issues in the force due to a “fear of repercussions or due to a sense of futility” that nothing will happen, a major survey has concluded.

The independent cultural audit of An Garda Síochána, the first survey of its type, said there is an apparent “significant disconnect” between senior gardaí and lower ranks and that senior leadership was “not visible” to members.

It said the leadership was seen as “reactive” to external demands at the expense of what was best for the organisation.

The audit said that while the external scrutiny was understandable, it was “undoubtedly increasing” the distance between the leadership and rank and file.

Frontline staff wanted the leadership to “speak up and stand up” for the organisation more.

The report, conducted by consultants PwC, said members experienced a “lack of empathy” from managers, evidenced by “a lack of understanding of the realities faced by members on the ground day to day”.

The authors said they found a “lack of willingness” among gardaí to speak out about wrongdoing or issues due to either a “fear of repercussions or due to a sense of futility” that nothing will happen.

It said positive aspects of Garda culture included the central role of gardaí in the community, the sense of teamwork and camaraderie among members, and the ‘can do’ attitude, despite limited resources and support and going above the call of duty.

PwC said there was a need to “fix the basics” of policing, by providing modern, fit for purpose uniforms, appropriate vehicles, and mobile technology.

The report said one of the biggest reasons for the disconnect between senior leadership and frontline ranks was a “perceived or real lack of meritocracy” and the belief that promotions, access to training, and transfers were down to “who you know”.

It said this belief came through “particularly vociferously” in both the survey of 6,560 staff and focus groups. “This has caused disillusionment and resentment across the organisation,” the report said.

It said the “overwhelming view” of members is that there are “large swathes of promotions” where the ‘names are known’ beforehand — although senior managers disputed this.

The audit said the promotion system was “one of the very important symbols of change within the organisation that needs to be addressed”. The report noted the Policing Authority now runs competitions for ranks of superintendent to assistant commissioner and recommended avenues should be explored for a “similar approach be adopted for more junior ranks”.

The audit said there were “significant concerns about shortcomings in frontline supervision”. It said this was a growing concern with the accelerated recruitment, which was leading to issues of probationers being ‘thrown in at the deep end’.

The authors said this was a “critical operational gap” that needed to be addressed “in the short term”. It said there were anecdotal reports of Garda members of two years’ service being the “most experienced” on a unit and being expected to mentor probationers. It warned that this situation posed a “significant risk”.

It said there were “high levels of scepticism and even cynicism across the organisation as to whether there is a genuine and meaningful commitment” to change it.

The report calls for a “planned programme for behaviour change.

Acting Commissioner Dónall O’Cualáin said the audit reinforced the belief culture needed to be reformed. He said there needed to be “greater engagement” with staff. He said he “completely agreed” with the call to increase supervisory ranks, particularly at sergeant level. He said a competition was underway to fill Sergeants positions by the end of the summer and Inspector roles by the end of the year.”

He said they had “more work to do” to encourage members to speak out.

Regarding promotions, he said they were seeking to change the regulations and bring them in line with the Policing Authority’s process for senior ranks.

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