Keynote speech of John O’Keeffe to the GRA Conference in April 2012

The following is an edited extract from the keynote speech of John O’Keeffe to the GRA Conference in April 2012

 

I have no doubt that during Mr. Alan Shatter’s speech later today delegates here will be told a number of things. You will be told that there is no money left in the kitty so you must continue to tighten your belts and ease up on the pepper spray because even its running out. You will be told not to worry about station closures in the cities and the countryside – sure there were far too many of them and apparently most of them had never even seen a Garda.

Minister Shatter, may even throw out a couple of statistics about how crime has reduced, more people are being arrested and some are even spending longer in prison. He may then patronisingly state that you all here today and your colleagues assisted with these improvements.

He may then finish with a rhetorical flourish in the manner of Fr Ted which will go something along the lines that really you are a great bunch of lads and girls altogether but if you wouldn’t just mind working longer, harder, for less money, doing new shifts that pit ponies would refuse and with no government support financial or otherwise, that would be just great.

This government doesn’t want you be police officers – they want you to be social workers whom also have MBA’s.

 

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Let me look at the first piece of nonsense austerity first – the closure of police stations.

 

The Minister is to press ahead with a further round of Garda station closures following the current closure programme, during which 39 stations are being shut. He now wants your Commissioner Martin Callinan to draw up a second list of locations that could be closed.

Yet just like the new work rosters that would be rejected by Chilean Miners, the station closures haven’t been thought through and are simply lip-service to a public baying for savings from anyone but them.

You should let the Minister in on a little secret – the only satisfaction that the so called clients want is police on the streets and firm sentencing, both of which this government is abjectly failing to deliver.

The Minister seriously now wants us to agree that implicitly moving towards HSE style “Centre’s of Excellence” when it comes to Garda stations is a way of creating efficiencies?

Does anyone honestly believe that a giant Blanchardstown Garda Station for example is going to become a centre of awe for criminals in West Dublin?

Of course it won’t – what the closure of all these smaller stations up and down the country will create is a Criminal’s Charter as vast swathes of the countryside will go unprotected. It is a false economy that will create and sustain yet further crime and destabilize a society already riven with recreational criminality.

Holding on to smaller rural police stations is not a sentimental throwback to a time when comely Gardai danced at the crossroads.

On the contrary, evidence based policing has suggested for decades that the best way to police is for law enforcers to be among the community they purport to serve – not in the office or driving around in cars in country lanes or housing estates 10 miles from the station.

With the greatest respect to our Defence Forces, when one of their barracks closes, they get a 21 Gun Salute and a dedicated half hour on Nationwide on RTE 1.

When you lose 39, you are told to shut up and stop complaining.

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In essence this government wants to justify these cuts by treating you just like every other civil servant. Can we say that your job is the same as, for instance, an Executive Officer in the Department of Social Welfare or a Tax Inspector?

How many clerical officers in the Department of Social Welfare do you imagine go into work each day knowing that they run a high risk of being verbally abused, punched, kicked or spat at?

How many civil servants in the Department of Education recently do you imagine were maimed, injured or unlawfully killed in the course of their duty?

None  – and yet government is now putting you in these same categories for the purposes of pulling the financial rug from under you.

If however the Minister wishes to find savings he can find them without compromising the police service, but in fact enhancing it. Frankly the solutions have always been there – it’s just that he and his predecessors have not have the wit to notice them.

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Minister Shatter’s first step is to get cross-departmental action on the level of alcohol abuse in this country which fuels crime. Cut out alcohol abuse and you cut crime drastically. Cut crime and you cut costs – like never before.

One of the first steps that can be introduced without any consultation is the U.S. idea of drunk tanks now being seriously considered by David Cameron’s government in Britain.

In Poland, as in certain U.S states, disorderly and criminal drunks are brought by police to these tanks where they are handed over, stripped naked and hosed down with cold water. They are then be charged €80 to leave after sobering up.

Of course some will say this type of treatment is degrading and that such people are treated like animals – to them I say – well if the cap fits.

And Drunk Tanks would save not only all the money that the Minister advises he needs to save.

It would also mean a more efficient police force engaged in the core work of policing and a safer society with all the attendant benefits that would bring.

Secondly, if the Minister truly wants to rationalize the Garda budget there is another major way he can make still further huge savings.

Introduce sentencing legislation that ensures that a sufficient deterrent is on the statute books to prevent crime from being committed in the first place.

Close the revolving and costly door of offenders walking into prison one day and walking out a week later. Its really very simple – a sentence audit needs to be taken by government without delay on all offences.

At the bottom end immediate changes could be made – ones which cause the state millions in Garda hours and which currently attract some shockingly insulting penalties. When it comes to the most serious offences a radical rethink is necessary and the GRA as an organization needs to lobby for mandatory minimumnot maximum – sentences for homicide as an first important step.

The UK Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides a model upon which fresh sentencing legislative provision with regard to mandatory sentencing could be considered in this jurisdiction.

It recommends the following basic tariffs as starting points for those convicted of murder for instance from 15 years to a whole life order.

In a country in economic meltdown, roll on, roll off prisoners also bleed the state of money and ensure that the slash and burn approach that your organization’s members are currently suffering, continues without question.

However, perhaps one of the greatest criminal justice scandals on both a societal and a monetary level, is the relentless wheel that is concurrent sentencing.

Quite simply, we must abandon concurrent sentencing in all but the most limited of cases.

These thugs and murderers should be in prison so long that you, a generation of police women and men, will not have the bother of dealing with them ever again and in the process save millions – notwithstanding extra prison costs. Therefore consecutive sentencing must now be written as a presumption into law.

And there is a third and final brave way that the Minister can create a police force that can not only become the envy of others around the world, but also ensure that we continue to meet our financial obligations to the rest of Europe in times of grave austerity.

A radical rethink is now needed with regard to our Defence Forces which must involve a redistributing of their skill set to an Garda Siochanna.

This must involve a diminution in the Defence Services from 50% of its current size extracting some 4,000 soldiers and navy personnel. Those whom wish to take voluntary redundancy must be allowed to so do.

Those whom remain should continue to provide essential fisheries protection, assist Garda escorts and also continue to play an active, though much smaller role, in international peacekeeping missions. Certain of their number can also be deployed to continue with ceremonial duties for both government and President.

The remainder of the Defence forces however needs to now to be subsumed into An Garda Siochanna an organization whom fight their own unrecognized war on the streets every day of the week.

A depleted police force in a society with increasing violent crime rates, compared to a comparatively unscathed army in a neutral country during peaceful times, makes no sense.

 

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In conclusion, Minister Shatter and the Government will tell you today and every day that we are all tightening our belts so there is nothing you can do.

 

He is so very wrong.

 

With some Montessori lateral thinking, the government could resolve these ever growing police crisis with simple measures, such as the introduction of drunk tanks, to free your time and save millions.

 

With only slightly more imagination they can introduce sentencing legislation that will ensure minimum mandatory sentences for lengthy periods of time for a range of offences.

 

They can also remove the discretion of the judges when sentencing – trust me – there is no one in Ireland whom believes that 3-5 years is sufficient time to serve for manslaughter, not just Gardai. None of us need a Judge to decide on this.

 

I say follow the UK model and slap minimum sentences on all killers.

Create deterrence and so create respect, and in the process you will create massive cost savings

 

Finally the Government needs to also Review the current size of the Defence Forces with a view to subsuming significant numbers into An Garda Siochanna.

 

A neutral country should not need the same size army or navy as one that is not neutral. No defence force we could ever muster could defend any sort of attack on this country.

 

Instead keep the defence forces lean, slim and effective and with the saved monies create instead a police force that can fight a winning war where it is really been fought – on the streets.

 

This government thanks you for putting your life and limb on the line for all of us every day by slashing your pay, cutting your pensions, eradicating your work life balance, removing your promotional opportunities, and now even closing down the places where you work.

 

You, the men and women of An Garda Siochanna, are the only buffer left in Ireland between chaos and order, between civilization and barbarianism.

 

Every decent person up and down this country respects the work you do in these difficult times, and today, all of us salute you.

 

It is now up to our government to do the same.