Moral authority lost in GRA’s sea of demands

Budget issues, bullying complaints, leadership dysfunction — the GRA makes a lot of noise at its conference but it needs to take charge of its own, writes Michael Clifford.

Moral authority lost in GRA’s sea of demands

It’s been a heady few days for the boys and boys of the GRA.

The Garda Representative Association has been holding its annual conference in Killarney. As with similar associations, the annual gabfest has been notable for the volume of whinging.

Some of the whinging is entirely justified. More of it is most definitely not.

But while the GRA excels at pointing and even wagging fingers at the minister for justice, the Garda commissioner, and the public, its capacity for self-analysis is roughly zero.

The GRA represents 10,200 rank-and-file guards. To that end, the association is an important cog in the law-enforcement machine.

Members have genuine grievances, and genuine contributions to make in bettering the system.

But, right now, the membership is represented by a body that has practically no moral authority, and that is not good for members, An Garda Síochána, or the public.

It’s over a year since the consultant firm Ampersand delivered its devastating report into how the GRA is run.

“There is significant dysfunction in how the elected leadership body functions,” declared the executive summary.

“The dysfunctional behaviours are seriously disturbing the lower levels of the organisation and affecting its representative effectiveness, reputation, and standing.”

And that in turn impacts on all members.

“Democratic participation by members on a national basis is inhibited by the poor communications system and the absence of consistent, accurate, and timely information required.”

As for the basics of corporate governance in an organisation that represents 10,200 public servants: “Accounting and reporting systems are archaic and less than adequate.”

So it goes with the boys and boys of the GRA. Something missing? Oh yes, the 27% of female members.

Ampersand found that the GRA was about three decades behind the norm in appreciating the importance of gender representation.

Of the 31 members of the central executive committee, just one is female and her tenure is due to end this year.

Ampersand characterised the upper echelons of the GRA as an “old boys club” where “talent was observed as less important than loyalty to those in power, or time-serving, in breaking into the upper echelons of the association”.

Last year, the Irish Examiner reported on an extraordinary investigation into a complaint by a female member of bullying and harassment.

Three of the four male members complained of didn’t bother turning up for a hearing on the matter.

Whether such actions are attributable to an attitude to women or simply towards any discipline within the GRA, is a moot point.

The Ampersand report could have, should have, sent alarm bells screaming.

Instead, the GRA is moving at a rate which might reasonably be interpreted as doing something in order to convey the impression that something is being done.

The subcommittee system which delivered oodles of expenses gravy has been slightly curtailed.

But the unwieldy central executive committee continues to be a cash cow for its members.

At the last time of counting — 2016 — it delivered €653,057.30 in expenses for its members, which included little items like €12,551.46 in road tolls. The committee has continued on its merry way.

In total, travel and subsistence in that year amounted to €1.14m, nearly half of all money collected in subscriptions.

Corporate governance, in general, came out of the report making the FAI look like a frontrunner for the company of the year.

One nugget in that department came to light in March of this year when it was revealed that the GRA had forked out €300,000 in a Revenue settlement as a result of misclassifying expenses and holiday vouchers.

On it goes the sorry saga of a dysfunctional organisation which shows absolutely no sign of waking up in the real world.

In such a milieu, the various demands and grievances aired at this week’s conference lose a lot of moral authority. The commissioner’s actions in cutting back on recruits were described at the conference as “mind-boggling”.

As mind-boggling as to the manner in which the GRA is run?

There was also criticism of the justice minister over budgets and resources.

These may well be valid but are being issued from an organisation that conducts dozens of leisurely and disorganised gatherings — as described by Ampersand — at various levels each year on Garda time.

Then there is the issue of civilianisation. Representatives from Cork City proposed a motion calling for a review on the hiring of hundreds of civilians.

Wherefore irony lads? Since last month, the GRA has been run by a civilian in the form of retired garda Pat Ennis who has continued in his role after leaving the force, making him the first civilian to lead the organisation.

The other issue with civilianisation from the Cork delegates is the impact it will have on older guards.

These members baulk at being displaced from the civilian-type roles they now enjoy and having to revert to being real guards.

Like much else on the agenda, that particular argument requires a helping of moral authority that was simply absent in Killarney this week.

Neither will you hear much breast-beating about the failure of around half of all members of the force to sign up to the code of ethics.

Any talk about that oul‘ stuff might be too much even for an irony-free zone.

While the delegates may well enjoy the few days’ break, spare a thought for those whom they purport to represent.

The force has a disproportionate young membership, and, as stated above, over a quarter are women.

Morale has been shattered in recent years following a series of scandals. A shortfall in required resources is real in certain quarters of the force.

Violent crime is presenting an increased threat in border regions.

In such a milieu, is it good enough that the interests of the vast majority of members are being represented in a forum that lacks the moral authority required to take on management?

Finger pointing and finger wagging were in abundance at the GRA conference this week.

The complete lack of self-analysis was sadly missing in action.

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