Let’s get behind our guards

The Cast Stone

ROSTER RESISTANCE Rank-and-file members are against a new roster system, insisting it introduces ‘adverse changes’ to their conditions of employment.

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

When are we going to support our gardaí? When are we going to stand up for the ordinary guard on the street and tell the powers-that-be enough is enough? Guards are invisible to most of us every minute of every day. They don’t often feature in our thinking, but every once in a while, they become central to our very existence.
Someone threatens or assaults, someone damages our property or steals from us, someone needs help urgently – what do we do? Call the guards! That has been the way it has been since the foundation of the state – since An Garda Síochána was formed in 1923. Sadly, however, that’s all changing. The people of rural Ireland have been abandoned by An Garda Síochána – not by the rank and file guards may I add, but by those who drive policy in our police force.
In truth, the guards never had the resources they deserved or required. If the public actually knew how cobbled together some things were on the ground, confidence would have gone through the floor. And things have gone from bad to worse recently.
Rural policing is almost non-existent. The system of policing our nation is now primarily based on the British model where hamlets are looked after from larger centres. This has not worked in Ireland, is not working in Ireland and never will work in Ireland, but is anyone saying anything about it? Who is standing up for the guards?
Ask yourself how many guards are on duty at weekends in Mayo and the answer will hinder sleep. How many gardaí are on duty for huge swathes of the county? How many calls can be responded to? Are the gardaí capable of answering three urgent calls within 20 minutes in all parts of Mayo? Are there enough guards at work to keep our communities safe? Ask our politicians. Ask the Garda top-brass. Ask the questions. You won’t like the answers.
Mayo is a massive county, and while it may be sparsely populated in some areas, it’s still populated. People do actually live in far-flung parts of the county, and that may surprise some of the policing policymakers – because they have abandoned vast areas of Mayo. Are our guardians of the peace tasked with trying to only protect that peace in our towns and heavily populated areas? Even if that is the case, the guards don’t even have the resources to do that. Talk to any guard on the ground and the frustration comes tumbling out.
Our population is growing, the ability and resources of criminals is growing, yet our police force is being squeezed at every turn. Everything from manpower to policing districts is being centralised, and the people say nothing – because the gardaí are invisible, except at those pivotal moments in our lives when we need them.
Last week, the ordinary guards on the ground had to shout stop. The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has contacted the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to inform him that it will reject proposed roster changes aimed at making the force even more of a nine-to-five operation.
Members of the GRA believe the new roster will see an €8,000 reduction in pay for some gardaí. This fits into the trend of money-saving and squeezing the on-the-ground operations.
The new roster is focused on leaving regular response gardaí on the four-on-four-off day rota but moving detectives and other specialists to a more office-based role, based around a nine-to-five roster.
The GRA believes that the new rosters would actually see some members work extra days with a reduction in their income. If that is indeed the case, it is unpalatable, and we as a people should make our feelings known.
In my view, the current policing of Mayo and Ireland is not fit for purpose. Many parts of our county are utterly exposed and the rank and file gardaí do not have the resources to change that. Official Ireland will dispute this and trot out numbers and statistics, but I know the truth. I’ve spoken with gardaí who are at their wits’ end, who know how exposed we are because of the lack of numbers on the ground and the lack of resources. They’re trying their very best to paper over the cracks and hold back the tide, but they’re becoming more and more frustrated with every passing day. Someone needs to speak up for our guards and do so urgently.