Gardaí are warning that the cost of the upcoming visit of American vice-president Mike Pence will compromise the safety and security of Irish citizens.
It is expected that the two-day visit by Mr Pence next month could drain up to €10m from the garda budget, which is already stretched after the visit of US president Donald Trump earlier this year.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) is now calling on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to provide separate funding to cover the visit, warning that otherwise, cuts will have to be made which could impact road checks, local crime control, surveillance, and community projects.
“White House confirmation that US vice-president Mike Pence will be in Ireland in early September raises the prospect of further cuts to the Garda ICT and training budget, and will likely impact on frontline policing,” said GRA general secretary Pat Ennis.
He added that the “safety and security of Irish citizens and frontline gardaí” will be “compromised” to pay for the visit. Significant resources were put into the Trump visit, which cost between €10m and €12m. Garda overtime spend up to July was €48.7m putting the overall budget under strain.
“The Garda Commissioner has already said he is having problems with his overtime spending, which is reportedly €3.7m over budget for the year to date,” said Mr Ennis.
This would suggest there could be fewer critical garda patrols because garda overtime hours will be cut.
“We have seen a recent upsurge in serious crime across the country and several violent, brutal, and sometimes life-threatening incidents involving gardaí, yet there are glaring training deficiencies in areas such as emergency response driving and DNA testing.
“Investment in technology would also put gardaí on the street for longer, helping detect and prevent crimes of all types. But instead we’re putting investment planned last year when the budget was set, into securing Donald Trump.”
He called on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to request separate funds to cover the Pence visit. Responding to a recent parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan, Mr Flanagan said spending is kept under constant review but refused to commit to providing additional funding for the event.
However, Mr Flanagan said there had been “significant investment” in Garda resources in recent years, with €1.76bn allocated for this year.
“Garda management and my department keep the financial position of An Garda Síochána under ongoing review,” he said. “This would also be the case in relation to the security costs associated with any visit to Ireland of foreign dignitaries, including a potential visit of Vice President Pence.”
However, Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said the response revealed nothing about the projected cost of a visit by the US vice president.
“With a proposed visit by the US Vice President expected in September we cannot allow further funding to be diverted from Garda resources,” he said.
“There is an €11m hole in the policing budget which can only be met in one of two ways, cuts to valuable projects which improve outcomes for policing, or by the Government stepping in to meet these costs. Funding for vital projects within An Garda Síochána should not be jeopardised at the expense of the forthcoming visit.”
Mr Ennis also hit out at the justice minister, claiming that expecting An Garda Síochána to find the money for exceptional events such as the visit of Donald Trump, and potentially Mike Pence, out of an annual allocation decided last year is “wholly unreasonable and breaks with precedent”.
“Normally one-off high- security events are paid for from a supplementary budget so why should it be different this time?” asked Mr Ennis.