“We are the servants of the people… not ourselves”

As the new Garda Commissioner settles into his position, Drew Harris speaks to Frontline gardaí and of the exciting opportunities that await its membership

In the short time since I had the honour and privilege of taking up the role of Garda Commissioner, the dedication and commitment among garda members to protecting and serving local communities has been palpable.

During my visits to garda stations, bureaus and offices, I have been struck by the very strong connection between An Garda Síochána and the community.

While it is clear from the Cultural Audit and my conversations with garda members that they want organisational change, they take great pride in their work in helping and supporting communities.

I have already seen some of that great work. Whether it was the world-class investigation into Freddie Thomson, the seizure of nearly €2m in cash from an organised crime gang, the returning of property after burglaries in rural areas, crime prevention campaigns or interventions to stop people taking their own lives. The quality, range and scale of the work being done on a daily basis is remarkable.

There have also been a number of incidents that highlight the dangers faced by garda members every day. We will continue to work to protect the health and safety of those who have to put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard others.

We have high-quality people. A major part of my role is ensuring they have the opportunity to develop and their creativity is unlocked. They will be supported with the right tools to do their job efficiently and effectively. We will also continue to work with the OPW and Government to improve the conditions our people work in.

It was clear from the Cultural Audit that a major priority for garda members was a new operational uniform. I fully agree, and a new uniform based on the one being piloted in a number of areas will be introduced. It will be a light blue polo shirt and navy combat trousers. The final design and timing of its introduction will be subject to procurement processes.

Next year will also see further improvements such as the introduction of an investigation management system, and the rosters and duty management system. Both of these will reduce paperwork and increase the amount of time our people can spend among the community.

Another concern raised in the Cultural Audit was the lack of supervision for garda members. This is being addressed, with 170 gardaí recently promoted to sergeant. The sergeant to inspector competition, which is due to be completed shortly, will further provide much-needed supervision, mentoring and guidance to the front line.

In addition, concerns around the promotions process will be addressed by introducing a more scientific and transparent way of selecting people.

Such systems and processes are very welcome, but the real key to delivering a police and security service focused on the needs of society is to ensure we individually and collectively have the right behaviours. 

Central to this is the Code of Ethics. It sets out the behaviours expected of all us in An Garda Síochána. The Code of Ethics is critical to how we will maintain and enhance the trust of the community.

Trust comes from dealing with all people honestly and openly, and with empathy and dignity.

Trust is hard won, and we need to earn this support this each and every day. It cannot be taken for granted. It must be earned.

You are our front-line in winning and maintaining the trust of the public.

I would urge any garda members who have received their Code of Ethics training, but have not signed the Code to do so. There are understandable reasons why some people may not have signed to date. For example, a concern that they have always behaved ethically and don’t need to sign a piece of paper to prove it.

But all of us signing the Code of Ethics is a strong signal, internally and externally, of our commitment to providing a human right based policing and security service that meets the needs of society. That is why it is so important.

Of course, the right behaviours are set from the top. I have stressed to senior managers the need for them to get out and talk to their people; to listen to their ideas and concerns.

Any ideas on how we can improve regardless of where they come from should always be listened to and welcomed. We also need to become a more learning organisation.

We will seek to change our disciplinary procedures to a twin track approach with one stream focusing on those whose behaviours can be improved through training and support, and the other stream focused on dealing with misconduct through a disciplinary process. We should not always turn automatically to discipline in dealing with difficult issues.

We also need to call out and address problems earlier. I appreciate the decision to cut discretionary overtime may not have been popular, but we must operate within the budgets provided to us by Government – in this case a budget that had increased from the year before.

There also needs to be realism in the demands being made. Nearly 90 per cent of the garda budget is spent on pay. That doesn’t leave a huge amount of money left to invest in the development of our people given the size of the organisation. We must and will introduce new and innovative solutions to develop garda members within a limited budget. 

Representative bodies have played, and will continue to play, an important role in supporting the members of their association. The GRA has a proud tradition of that. I look forward to a productive relationship focused on delivering an excellent police service based on our respective statutory roles as laid out in the Garda Síochána Act.

This is an exciting time for An Garda Síochána. There are hundreds of new people joining us every year who are bringing a wide range of experiences and expertise that can only benefit us. New technology is being introduced that will make our working lives more productive. New approaches are being adopted that will make us more agile and responsive. 

In addition, the recently published Commission on the Future of Policing provides a once-in-a-generation pathway for all stakeholders to play their role in enhancing the policing service provided to the public.

This will bring changes and challenges. But change and challenge are constants in policing, and throughout this we will retain our focus on serving society. 

It also brings with it many opportunities. Opportunities to improve by doing things better. Opportunities to look at how to solve problems differently. Opportunities to make a real difference inside An Garda Síochána and in society.

In doing so, we must remember the ethos of An Garda Síochána that was spelt out so clearly by the first Commissioner, Michael Staines.

Nearly 100 years ago, Commissioner Staines said, “The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but by their moral authority as servants of the people.”

We are the servants of the people; a police and security service. We are here to serve the people; not ourselves. Not the organisation; the people.

How we individually and collectively work with victims of crime, the vulnerable, members of minority communities, and the general public determines the level of support we receive from the public.

I thank garda members for their dedication to duty and service, and I look forward to working with you all over the next five years to maintain and enhance that support.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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