The president of the Garda Superintendents Association (GSA) Noel Cunningham has expressed concern about radical new plans for An Garda Síochána which will create new autonomous areas of policing across the Republic, each run by a chief superintendent with more independence than ever from Garda Headquarters.
Under the new plans, the number of divisions will be cut from 28 at present to 19, which will likely meet with resistance from some local communities and politicians as many garda stations will lose their current divisional headquarters status.
Each of the new larger 19 divisions will be run as a “mini police force” with the chief superintendents in charge of them “effectively the Garda Commissioner for their own areas”, informed sources said.
Supt Cunningham told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that he awaits the full details of the proposed reforms, to see “the mechanics of how it will work.”
Issues raised by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) about the plans were “thought-provoking” he said.
The plan is not a ‘fait accompli’ and is something that will require work.
Two years ago at the GSA’s annual conference, he said there were warnings about corridors of crime at the border, and unfortunately what was forecast had “come true” such as recent ATM robberies and the bomb incident on the Fermanagh border.
“We are concerned that the same thing will happen in rural Ireland. Huge tranches won’t have cover. This is not a new idea, it was included in Report 11 of the Garda Inspectorate.”
Supt Cunningham said that under the proposal resources would be “pulled to the centre” with entire areas being left without policing.
Management structures would be removed from areas facing major issues such as Brexit and organised crime, he warned.
Under the new model Superintendents would have responsibilities over a large area and there could be a criticism that they were hiding behind layers rather than leading from the front, he said.
This was in contrast to the current system where Superintendents are hands-on in the community and know local community groups, business owners and local representatives.
They know what’s happening in the area. They are there to be accountable.
His organisation is not reluctant to change, he said. They were forerunners and had previously commissioned a report on how to do the job better, some aspects of which were contained by Kathleen O’Toole, chair Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, in her report.
“The current model is good if properly resourced. We welcome civilian workers to allow the force to get on with policing issues.
“We want to be able to deliver services to the public and to represent our members in the best way possible."