TOWARDS the end of last June Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan warned the Government that a ‘profound risk’ existed to the standard of policing in the country because so many senior posts remained unfulfilled. She wanted 18 chief superintendent and 26 superintendent promotions approved by the Cabinet.
She got somewhat less than that when, two weeks later, the Government approved the appointment of 28 senior officers in total.
This time round, that ‘profound risk’ to policing has become more critical as the Government has refused to sanction more promotions until the new Policing Authority can take over its role of final approval.
That is unlikely to happen until well into the New Year. In the meantime, there are currently 17 vacant senior garda posts at assistant commissioner, chief superintendent and superintendent ranks.
The situation is stark: some assistant commissioners are being forced to take on dual and often diverse roles in order to fill in the gaps.
One assistant commissioner is in charge of the National Support Services in Dublin but also responsible for border policing. Another has responsibility for both southern and western regions where previously there were two assistant commissioners filling those geographical roles.
According to senior garda sources, there is no chief superintendent in the Special Detective Unit which deals with subversive crime while the acting chief — also the head of Crime and Security — is about to retire. This raises fears that subversives — both home grown and otherwise — could increase their activities and put the lives of civilians in danger.
On top of that there are also senior vacancies at the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau. This has obvious implications for road safety, especially in light of the fact that, so far this year, 32 more people have died on our roads than up to the same period in 2015.
Minister Fitzgerald is correct in widening the brief of the Policing Authority to include senior promotions. There is no justification for continuing the current highly flawed system whereby the Cabinet gives the final seal of approval.
Apart from the obvious dangers of political favouritism, the Cabinet has no competence in day-to-day policing.
It is intended the process of seniour appointments will become completely meritorious and independent when the Policing Authority takes control of it and that is a good thing, but what is to happen in the meantime?
The recent threatened strike by gardaí posed an existential threat to the state. The absence of so many senior garda officers in such key areas of policing comes a close second.
The Policing Authority has been operating for less than a year and it will take time for it to take on the extra function of approving senior promotions.
Minister Fitzgerald must recognise that and ensure that these critical appointments are made now, when they are needed, and not when it may be too late.
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