Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has requested a meeting with the leadership of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) as it is about to ballot its members on a motion of no confidence in him. The meeting was requested by Mr Harris on Wednesday and was due to take place at Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Thursday morning.
It is understood Mr Harris wants to speak to the senior figures in the GRA, which represents about 12,000 rank and file gardaí in a 14,000-strong force, about their grievances, including new rosters, suspensions and falling Garda numbers among others.
The central executive committee of the GRA last week decided to put a ballot of no confidence in Mr Harris to its members. While it would have no legal standing, if such a motion was passed it would be embarrassing for the commissioner and would cement the deterioration in relations between him and his workforce.
Neither the GRA nor Garda Headquarters have made any comment about Thursday’s planned meeting. However, sources confirmed it was set to take place, that it was at Mr Harris’s instigation and that a range of matters, including the planned motion of no confidence, would be discussed.
The GRA has long complained its members were not trained and equipped to deal with the level of assaults on them, and general aggression, they were encountering on the streets. A long-running dispute between the commissioner and the GRA – as well as the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) – over rosters has become protracted.
New contingency rosters, featuring 12-hours shifts, introduced to facilitate a policing surge during the pandemic period have been repeatedly extended and remain in place. They are very popular across the force, as they reduce the number of shifts Garda members work and also result in additional allowances related to working unsocial hours.
However, Mr Harris has attempted to introduce new rosters which he says better place the Garda to meet modern policing challenges. Those new rosters involve shorter and more frequent shifts but are being opposed on the basis they will result in up to 47 additional working days per year.
Two weeks ago Mr Harris surprised the Garda staff associations by announcing the Garda would revert to the pre-pandemic rosters, pending agreement on new rostering arrangements. The move was seen as an effort to sidestep the dispute between maintaining the pandemic-related contingency rosters or moving to completely new arrangements.
The associations have also complained as Garda numbers have fallen – from 14,750 in March 2020 to just below 14,000 at present – the workload on members of the force has now become intolerable. They have also pointed to significantly increasing resignation numbers as proof of a retention “crisis” and very low morale.
However, senior Garda management has said while resignations were increasing – and are on course to reach about 140 this year, a record high – that represented just one per cent of the Garda workforce. They have also pointed to the fact Garda numbers were at a record high as the pandemic began and had only fallen back because of the forced closure of the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, during the pandemic. Recruitment has recommenced, senior sources said, with Garda numbers set to stabilise this year before increasing next year.
Mr Harris has repeatedly said the aim was to grow the Garda to 15,000, for the first time ever, and once that target was reached, to further increase the size of the organisation. The GRA and AGSI have complained recruitment targets were not met in recent years, pouring doubt on current promises from Garda Headquarters and the Government.
However, senior management has insisted falling numbers since 2020 were solely as a result of the pandemic and the situation was already on the way to being solved as full recruitment was now long under way, with Government sources echoing that view. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee last week announced a €10 million overtime boost for Dublin to year end. It is to be used for additional shifts, helping boost the Garda presence on the streets in a bid to address falling public confidence around safety in the city.