GRA’s top committee ‘not fit for purpose’

Michael Clifford examines a critical review of the Garda Representative Association,

GRA’s top committee ‘not fit for purpose’

Michael Clifford examines a critical review of the Garda Representative Association,

which paints a picture of corporate rot that seems to start with its leadership structure.

The review of the Garda Representative Association, conducted by international consultants Ampersand, is a devastating critique of a body which, the report suggests, is long past its sell-by date as currently organised.

It is excoriating of almost every aspect of how the organisation is run. The greatest criticism is reserved for the management structure and system of accountability. There is precious little within it which can be grasped to explain away a few kinks or management misdemeanours.

The review was proposed at the GRA’s annual delegate conference in 2016.

Numerous issues, most prominently the threat to strike in October, kept the GRA busy and the review wasn’t commissioned until March 2017.

Maybe the delegate conference should have been careful what it wished for.

The conference itself comes in for scathing criticism, being viewed by many of the 10,200 members as “a

failed formula for policy-making or accountability, a junket, and a financial extravagance”.

The leadership structure is where all the corporate rot would appear to start.

The GRA is divided into district, divisional, and national structures.

The national central executive committee is the real power body in the organisation.

The authors believe the 31-member CEC is not fit for purpose.

In 2016, expenditure on travel and subsistence directly attributable to the CEC came to €658,188, which accounted for two thirds of all travel expenses in the whole organisation.

The vast majority of this spending was on mileage and subsistence, but also included over €12,000 paid on road tolls.

The CEC organises itself by dividing into sub-committees, a system that came in for heavy criticism.

Sub-committee meetings accounted for over €132,000 in travel expenses in 2016.

There are 12 sub-committees with an average of seven members on each. Each CEC member sits on three sub-committees but it is not known on what basis members are selected.

“There is no competence basis apparent in the election of members to sub-committees,” the report states.

Generally, the sub-committees meet “11 or 12 times a year in HQ, which is located in Phibsboro in Dublin”.

The sub-committees generally meet at 11am for one or two hours.

“Agendas are not issued in advance,” the report says.

“Most sub-committees keep written minutes, although not in any standard format.”

Ampersand was unable to obtain minute books from three of the 12 committees.

The meetings were characterised to the report’s authors, with a few exceptions, as “informal/casual discussions which ‘don’t necessarily go anywhere’.”

The average cost of a sub-committee in travel expenses is €11,057.

“This is an expensive system, particularly where there is little measurable output,” the report states.

“In an organisation where there is no training, and significantly less than adequate communications and information systems, this is a serious amount of money.”

A picture emerges of the life and tough times of a CEC member attending sub-committee meetings.

He or she gets into a car maybe three times a month to drive to Phibsboro, from wherever in the country they are based.

If from a far-flung corner of the country, this may require an overnight stay.

They meet at around 11am, have a chat which doesn’t necessarily go anywhere, and return home thereafter.

For that, they pull in just south of five grand each on average, annually, on travel expenses alone.

All of which is apart from their general CEC duties and meetings.

The members of the CEC are all elected, so presumably the 10,200 members of the association are happy to contribute 0.6% of their annual salary to accommodate such a system. Or maybe not. The report concludes: “The current sub-committee structure in the association represents an unnecessary layer, distracting the national attention and resources from the responsibility to pursue national issues to conclusion.”

Despite the shortcomings in effectiveness and accountability, one might imagine that based on the

generous expenses, the CEC would be a happy ship for all on board, but that is not the case.

Ampersand uncovered a major degree of disunity on the CEC which was perturbing the district and

divisional delegates, as well as ordinary members.

“The perceived and observed factional position-taking and voting, constant and legalistic ‘bickering’, and the apparent inability of the national body is having a significant impact on trust and confidence,” the authors say.

“This conflict is reported as well known within the association, and we found that it is also known to, and has been experienced and observed by external stakeholders.”

Ampersand sought submissions externally from the Policing Authority, GSOC, the Garda Inspectorate and the Department of Justice.

Membership of the CEC is through election, but the report found a perception that it has evolved into an “old boys’ club” and “a club within a club”.

Representative members at district level believed the CEC has a system in which “internal loyalties determine who gets what in terms of national sub-committee membership. Talent was observed as less important than loyalty to those in power, or time serving in breaking into the upper echelons of the association”.

Strengthening the perception of an old boys’ club was the fact that just one of the 31 members of the CEC was a woman, despite women making up 27% of the association’s membership.

“This was widely expressed as unacceptable,” the report found.

“The fact that no action has been taken already The members of the CEC are all elected, so presumably the 10,200 members of the association are happy to contribute 0.6% of their annual salary to accommodate such a system. Or maybe not.

The report concludes: “The current sub-committee structure in the association represents an unnecessary layer, distracting the national attention and resources from the responsibility to pursue national issues to conclusion.” To address the issues that contribute to this, is unusual in our experience in a representative body.

“Drawing on the whole pool of talent in any organisation is a taken-for-granted principle, and if women are not expressing interest in participating in the association, then this will have to be addressed.”

The authors recommend that a new “Vision 2025” be set out for the long- term overhaul of the whole organisation.

The report is due to be addressed at a delegate conference later this month, where it will either be accepted or rejected.

Should it fail to be accepted, major questions will arise as to whether any rejection is in keeping with the kind of dysfunctional operation that has been outlined in this review.

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