JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern has described as “absolute hogwash” Garda claims of political interference in the promotion of officers.
Mr Ahern was yesterday responding to concerns over a directive from the Department of Finance that all promotions and appointments in the public sector, including gardaí, had to be approved by them.
The president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) Paschal Feeney said the move — which took the power away from the Garda commissioner — smacked of “political interference”.
But speaking before his address to the AGSI annual conference in Athlone, Mr Ahern said: “All of that is absolute hogwash. In more constrained financial times, the Department of Finance has to be more careful in relation to the whole area of rising public sector numbers and that is what the circular is about.”
Garda representatives said last week that 200 gardaí were listed for promotion to rank of sergeant, while 36 sergeants were listed for promotion to inspector. At least six districts are without a superintendent and inspectors have to fill in.
Mr Ahern told delegates that the number of sergeants had risen from 1,926 to 2,221 in the last three years, while the number of inspectors is up from 288 to 344.
He accepted senior vacancies would have to be filled: “It’s up to each government department to negotiate with the Department of Finance. I’ve already had discussions with the Garda commissioner and he’s happy he can proceed.
“The Government totally accepts that vacancies at that level have to be filled because you can’t have the Garda Síochána with vacancies at a high management level.”
Responding to calls from Mr Feeney for the Criminal Assets Bureau to go after rogue bankers, Mr Ahern said the unit was “available if necessary”. But he said that it was not for him to decide and was a matter for the Garda commissioner.
In relation to AGSI concerns over the impact of falling resources on Garda services, Mr Ahern said garda numbers had risen from 11,895 in 2002 to 13,755 at the end of 2007 and would reach 15,000 this year.
He told delegates people in the public sector, “with secure jobs and safe pensions”, had to make a contribution to national recovery. In relation to the income and pension levies, he said: “Garda pay is among the best in the public service and Garda pensions are more valuable than most public service pensions.”
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