Tánaiste and Garda commissioner at odds over new Armed Support Unit’s lack of boss

The Tánaiste and Garda commissioner appeared to contradict each other yesterday as to why the new Armed Support Unit for Dublin does not have a dedicated boss.

Tánaiste and Garda commissioner at odds over new Armed Support Unit’s lack of boss

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she had filled all Garda vacancies there were and that the absence of a chief superintendent over the unit is an “operational decision” for the commissioner.

Nóirín O’Sullivan said she is “working closely” with the Department of Justice and Policing Authority “in respect of vacancies that we have” and would be making a case for a full-time firearms chief in the coming months.

They were speaking at Garda headquarters in Phoenix Park, at the launch of the 55-strong overt intervention unit.

The unit has been set up as a direct response to the murderous Kinahan-Hutch feud which erupted this year and has claimed up to 10 lives.

The heavily armed, uniformed unit will conduct patrols and checkpoints targeting the feud and will provide armed assistance in planned searches against organised crime.

A chief superintendent for Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) East is double-jobbing as chief of the unit.

The unit comes under the direction of the DMR office, which has a vacancy at chief superintendent level.

Sources said it is a full-time role, as it co-ordinates all regional resources including the unit, and needs a person of the rank of chief to direct operations across the six Dublin divisions, each led by a chief superintendent.

Ms Fitzgerald said the unit is “very important” for the protection of the people of Dublin and was pleased the Government was able to support it.

Asked why it is being run by a part-time chief, she said: “That’s an operational decision.”

Frances Fitzgerald and Nóirín O’Sullivan
Frances Fitzgerald and Nóirín O’Sullivan

Ms Fitzgerald said the Employment Control Framework (ECF) determined staffing levels. “I filled that recently with 11 appointments and have made 45 senior promotions this year altogether and then the Garda commissioner makes a decision on operational use.”

Pressed that there are six senior gardaí (five superintendents to be upgraded to chief superintendent and one chief to be promoted to assistant commissioner) listed for promotion which will expire at the end of the month, and that there are continuing vacancies, Ms Fitzgerald said: “Vacancies that were there I have filled.

“When people applied for those jobs they knew they were being put on a panel and if vacancies didn’t arise by the time the transfer was going across to the authority there would be new applications.”

She said she would be examining the ECF and discussing it further with Ms O’Sullivan and Cabinet colleagues as the force increases to 15,000. “Clearly the ECF will be open to discussion,” she said.

On the Armed Support Unit having a part-time chief, Ms O’Sullivan said she is “working very closely” with the department and the authority “in respect of vacancies that we have”.

She said the Government had filled the ECF, but pointed out that this ceiling was introduced in 2010 at a time when “it was envisaged the organisation would be reduced down to 11,000-11,500”.

As the force rises to 15,000, she said: “We need to review the ECF and the management structures that need to be in place to support and provide adequate governance.”

Ms O’Sullivan also said she is to set up a National Firearms Command in the first quarter of 2017, bringing together all the armed support units.

“We will be making the case we need a dedicated chief superintendent for that,” she said.

Reacting to reports that the Department of Justice had to cough up €25m to help fund the estimated €50m Garda pay bill, Ms O’Sullivan said she and her team are “negotiating with the department in relation to that”.

Asked is the Garda overtime budget most likely to be hit to help pay the bill, Ms O’Sullivan said: “Sometimes overtime is an absolute necessity because police is a demand-driven profession.”

The Garda budget was cut by €20m in the last budget, to €71.5m.

Regarding comments from PSNI boss George Hamilton that weaker immigration checks here are providing a route for international criminals to enter the UK, Ms O’Sullivan said it was the chief constable’s “opinion” but that the gardaí and PSNI work “very closely together”.

Policing Authority confirms competition for vacancies

The Policing Authority has confirmed to five superintendents on a list for promotion that a new competition will be set up to fill vacancies when it assumes responsibility for the area at the start of January.

In a letter to the five senior officers, the authority said that once it takes over the promotions system, appointments will be made only when it had undertaken its “own selection competition”.

The superintendents have been told by the Department of Justice that their promotion list will expire when regulations are brought in transferring the promotion system to the authority at the end of the month.

The five are the last on a list of 18 superintendents who were successfully selected on a panel for promotion to chief superintendent.

The five superintendents wrote to the authority expressing concern that no consideration had been put in place in the new promotions regime for their successful selection.

They said they had a “legitimate expectation” that their promotion would be ratified if there were vacancies. They argued that there were eight vacancies at chief superintendent level.

They informed the authority they were exploring all of their options, understood to include legal avenues.

In response, the authority said it had “no function in relation to this competition, nor in relation to appointments made on foot of it”.

It said that once the regulations are commenced the authority will make appointments “having undertaken our own selection competition”.

It said the Government retained the function of determining the number of positions at different ranks (the Employment Control Framework) and would appoint up to that number.

The various Garda staff associations are due to meet the authority for a briefing on the new promotions system next week.

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