Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) in Carlow, acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin said that, in a tour around each garda division, every chief superintendent had flagged this issue.
AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham told him that the shortage of sergeants and inspectors was at “crisis point” and that the problem had been made worse by the delay in the promotion competition.
“We do not understand, when you have a full complement of assistant commissioners why the competition has not commenced and, at current timelines, it seems unrealistic if the current vacancies will even be filled before the year end,” she said. “This is not good enough and, as you have control over it, we would respectfully ask you to commence this process without further delay.”
Mr Ó Cualáin said he “shared” the concerns of the association.
“I have just finished a tour of the country where I visited every chief superintendent in their own divisions and it has been a constant refrain that supervision is a problem in the context of lack of supervision,” he said, adding that some of the “legacy issues” the organisation was still dealing with were perhaps due to a lack of supervision.“
He said the organisation welcomed new recruits, but added: “We do need additional supervisors. We are in talks with the Department to get an increase in ECF [Employee Control Framework] in the context of having more sergeants to supervise young people and we have competitions up and running at the moment and we hope that by summer we will have a list of sergeants to put into those stations.”
In relation to concerns over garda welfare services, he said members do “very dangerous work” but said the organisation had provided “lots of safety nets and safeguards” with the employee assistance service and the 24-hour helpline.
He said that “whatever investment is required” to provide a welfare system to be proud of would be.
Asked was there still a stigma about seeking help, the commissioner said: “There was a macho culture in the past. People tended to bottle things up and take them home. I’d encourage all supervisor ranks to make it a safe place for officers to speak out.”
The conference also heard that the organisation was facing a crisis in the investigation of road deaths and serious injuries.
Figures from the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau showed there was a 70% rise in serious injury collisions in the past four years — but at the same time there had been a 40% drop in specialist forensic collision investigators.
Garda College delegate Ronan McDonald said the staffing issue was “critical”.
Garda Chief Administrative Officer Joe Nugent said a competition to fill the vacancies would be held in the coming weeks.
Deputy Commissioner John Twomey said there were vacancies in many different areas and that it was not possible to do it all at once and had to be phased.
The conference heard again about long-running concerns at the lack of gardaí qualified to drive patrols cars, and that members who were allowed by their bosses to drive can not speed, break lights, or use bus lanes in responding to an incident.