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Ireland: State of Fear – ‘People are definitely a lot less safe’

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As part of The Irish Post’s Special Report on Ireland – a State of Fear, we spoke in confidence to two gardai – first a garda with 13-year’s experience stationed in a regional town in Leinster, and secondly with a garda stationed in Dublin.

 

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How safe is society?
People in their homes are less safe. People asleep at night are definitely a lot less safe. There are huge gangs or organised criminals going around robbing houses every night. You are asleep in your bed and they are in your kitchen, taking your car, walking around your house holding knives in case they are disturbed.

Nightlife and public order is not the problem it was, people are not taking cocaine like they did or drinking as much as they were but people in their homes are not safe and these people have no problem beating up the elderly.

When I go to bed at night I check all the doors, I wouldn’t feel 100 per cent safe in my own house. If they want to get in it’s so easy.

In policing terms how do you combat that?
Have a police force out there patrolling at night which is not the case now. I’ve done so many call-outs where the people have come down and found their cars gone.

Career criminal know we can’t do anything. The whole legal system is f****d, lads go away [to jail] for three years then come out, go wild, do as much as they can, then go inside for a while again. They know the length of sentencing is going to fall in their favour because the prisons are full.

I used to love this job, but it’s a bad job now. When a guard can’t support his family then it’s a bad job.

What’s the solution?
Bring back overtime. If they don’t it will get to the stage where society decides it has had enough, maybe a garda will get killed or a journalist will get killed and only then the law will change. If I had the balls, I’d leave the country, only I have kids. I believe morale to be at an all-time low, when I first joined the money wasn’t great and there wasn’t much overtime, but it was nowhere near as bad as this.

Why is morale low?
It’s a combination of the recession hitting and a shortage of money but so too a lack of movement in the job. When I joined, I went from the drugs unit to the detective unit. Now if a detective retires, they’re not being replaced.

There are lots of good young lads on regular units but there is no opportunity for them to move on, task forces are full, drugs units are full. The job is a bottle neck. What’s the point in them going beyond what they should do, they just take the call, enter the details into Pulse, and do nothing with it because they’re not going to get anything but grief for going a bit extra.

What’s the feeling about closing rural stations?
The numbers are so low that they are struggling to get two people for a car crew. That means a lot of lads have to go out alone and that’s dangerous because your nearest assistance might be a 20-minute drive away.

Is there any sign of that changing?
No, there is nobody down the Garda College and they are going to reduce the force by 1500. I can’t see it changing. To be appointed detective used to be a great thing, but they are not appointing any detectives in Dublin now. There hasn’t been an uptake in three years.

What is the majority of your time spent on?
Burglaries, aggravated burglaries, where someone goes in with a weapon and robberies, the main thing in the station is road traffic offences, public order and domestics.

Would that have always been the case in your station?
Pretty much, but the amount of drink driving has dropped because of the enforcement.

When morale is low, how does that impact on the ground?
Lads just won’t do their job properly. If a uniform goes to a burglary, there might be something there he could chase down, there could be CCTV on a house down the road and if the guard checked it, it might show the culprit. But the guard going down, ticking a few boxes, putting it on the computer and is asking himself, why would I bother chasing down a lead? I’d only get hassle if I do an hour’s overtime, I’ll get no reward. I’ll be told I can’t go to court and that’s where the real garda work starts, when you have to investigate the crime, having to do all the paperwork, chase down all the leads – it all takes time.

…and to a garda with eight years’ service in Dublin….

Do you feel crime rates are worse compared to when you first joined?
Certain things are worse and certain things are not so bad. Gangland is bad and the criminals know there is not as many of us around.  This compared with 2007 and 2008 when there were always armed patrols and drugs patrols. The difference is massive; things are not being investigated properly. If I went to a burglary tonight it’s not going to be investigated. You are going back telling people who have been robbed that you have no leads, that you’re sorry.  When I started eight years ago you’d be given the time to investigate the crime but now it’s just not happening.

Whenever there’s a big case the first thing that’s done is an inspector is appointed as financial controller. That’s the worry more than anything else.

Why is that?
To make sure people don’t incur overtime. If a murder occurs there are loads of tasks that need to be done and the financial controller will make sure you don’t incur overtime to meet the tasks. If something serious happened tonight, I wouldn’t be allowed to come in in the morning to finish that task. You’d be told to come back when you are next working and you might not be next working until four/five day’s time. By then CCTV etc could be deleted.

Does it feel like you are prevented from doing your job properly?
It does feel like that because we’re not being given the resources we need to fight crime and when stuff goes to court they don’t want you to go because you will incur overtime and travel expenses.

What’s the solution?
The number one problem is that senior management and middle management are not telling the truth about what’s happening on the ground. They are more worried about rocking the boat because it would reflect badly on their management of the station and they want to keep my budgets in line no matter what.

Do the cuts make the job more dangerous?
It does, because there are not as many gardai. It’s not as bad in Dublin but down the country it’s very bad. Gardai are on their own and often they wouldn’t go into some calls, they will wait for back-up and that could take an hour or two and you’re not getting paid enough to put yourself in harm’s way.

Do you know of stations where budgets are being ignored?
It’ rare but there is good detective inspectors and good detective superintendents who want to solve crime and they’ll do what needs to be done. But now the culture is to sit at desks and manage the money.

What things aren’t as bad?
Drink driving is down but that’s because of the traffic core and the resources put into it.

Is the job a lot harder?
Well it’s a lot harder to do things right, and shortcuts are being taken all over the place and the public just don’t realise. You have to apologise to people now when you are going to burglaries because people have been waiting an hour or two for you to come.

Things are different to a couple of years ago, totally different; if you are dealing with an assault and then you’re off for four or five days, you are not allowed to come in and properly investigate. You are told to come back in five day’s time and stuff is going to be missed. You take a witness statement at the time not five days after the crime.

I know of court cases that have been struck out by judges because the garda has not turned up, knowing that if he did, he’d incur costs.

If someone is killed is that the most important thing to do? To appoint an inspector as a financial controller as opposed to conducting a proper investigation?

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Robert Mulhern
ABOUT 

Robert is a freelance news and sports journalist. He is also the author of A Very Different County and creator/producer of Sex, Flights and Videotapes for RTE's Doc on One. Follow him @MulhernRobert on Twitter

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