The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has criticised the Department of Justice and garda management for failing to protect the rights, entitlements, and working conditions of its 11,500 members.
Speaking at its annual conference, GRA president Frank Thornton told Minister for Justice Helen McEntee that “those who protect the public must be protected also”.
“Unfortunately minister, the level of protection for the rights, entitlements, and fair working conditions of our members, including their welfare and wellbeing, has not always been what we expect and deserve from your department.
Mr Thornton claimed it’s an understatement to say that morale is very low among his members. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he rejected this claim.
The GRA president countered by stating that more than 20% of gardaí who left the force last year resigned rather than retired.
“Of the 400 members who left our organisation last year, over 90 of these resigned. It would appear significant numbers are deciding that a lifelong career in An Garda Siochana is no longer an attractive option,” Mr Thornton said.
He told Ms McEntee mandatory ‘tougher’ sentences are needed to combat the rise in violent assaults on emergency services.
“This has led to 175 gardaí being unavailable for work through work-related injuries every month,” Mr Thornton said.
He warned that the GRA is heading towards conflict with garda management over the implementation of new rosters, “pitiful levels of training, and serious shortfalls in resources” and the building of an €80m garda station in Dublin’s Military Road which will replace their station in Harcourt Square.
Mr Thornton said the new building “is not fit for purpose as it currently stands” because gardaí will be forced “into smaller and more cramped working spaces”.
He criticised the lack of progress in constructing of long-promised stations in Clonmel, Macroom, Sligo, and Newcastlewest, while gardaí in those towns continue to work in archaic buildings.
Mr Thornton told Commissioner Harris while frontline gardaí received “continued trust and support from our communities” the same couldn’t be said of senior garda management.
He said employment rights and working conditions cannot be diluted to compensate for the fact there are simply not enough gardaí to provide a proper policing service.
“We’ve been promised 800 new trainee gardaí in 2022 but as of today, 25 have walked through the gates of Templemore. I doubt very much the target set by the government will be achieved this year,” Mr Thornton said.
“From my viewpoint, we are merely plugging gaping holes created from a (previous) recruitment embargo and a now slow recruitment process,” he told Mr Harris.
Mr Thornton said since the 2016 launch of the ‘Garda Modernisation and Renewal Programme’, frontliners had listened to soundbites of a ‘renewed energy’ for a modernised police force but had yet to much change.
“We’ve serious concerns with the use of sub-optimal virtual training, a glaring lack of resources, and inadequate equipment,” he said.