Latest: Minister to hear threat of strike action at AGSI conference this evening

Antoinette Cunningham
By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

Update 1.09pm: Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will face the threat of strike action by mid-ranking gardaí when he attends their annual conference this evening.

The AGSI said it is only pushing for what is fair in terms of the right to strike, but would not comment further ahead of an address to the Minister.

He will also face calls for additional sergeants and inspectors to cope with additional recruitment in recent years.

A strike by two garda associations was narrowly avoided in late 2016, but the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors is disappointed that it is still legally prevented from striking.

While she would not be drawn on specifics ahead of her speech this evening, AGSI President Antoinette Cunningham said the matter would be raised before the Justice Minister;

"I think we have a number of issues that we have to discuss with the Minister, around strike and strike action," she said.

"We have a number of issues around resourcing, we have a number of issues around staffing and supervision, but most importantly, this year it's about the wellness and well-being of our members."

Mid-ranking gardai are concerned about the rise in suicides in the force, and want a prevention programme.

There’s also a call for additional sergeants and inspectors – in particular, to cope with the influx in recent years of probationer gardaí.

Sergeant Cunningham says there’s long been an awareness of the consequences of a lack of supervision - one of the issues being investigated by the Disclosures Tribunal at present.

"These were flagged back, I'd say, in the early 2000s, certainly in the Changing Policing in Ireland report by the Inspectorate in 2015, by the O'Higgins Commision in 2016, and by AGSI for a long number of years.

Update 10.37am: Comprehensive suicide prevention programme demanded for Gardaí

Frontline supervisors are pushing for a comprehensive suicide prevention programme for An Garda Síochána in light of an apparent increase in members taking their own lives.

Garda sources have estimated that up to seven gardaí have died by suicide in the last 12 months or so, described as a significant rise on previous years.

It is thought that two of these members were at sergeant rank alone.

The issue of mental health is set to be a dominant theme at this year's annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, which begins today.

There are a range of motions on this issue before conference, which will be addressed this evening by its president Antoinette Cunningham and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

There are calls in relation to ongoing training regarding mental health and policing, an enhanced counselling service for members, an analysis of sick cover in relation to the area and the establishment of an expert group to examine the working environment.

A motion from Dublin South Central calls on the conference to direct the AGSI national executive to request the Garda Commissioner “to implement a comprehensive suicide prevention programme for An Garda Síochána in light of the need to reduce the prevalence of suicide within the organisation”.

The national executive has proposed an amendment which will direct the association to carry out a full review of the AGSI Sickness Insurance Scheme in relation to this issue.

Cork City branch has a specific motion on sick leave in relation to amending the legislation in cases where members are advised by the Department of Health to stay away from work.

The Galway branch wants the association “to demand that a continuous professional development programme is implemented” to educate gardaí of every rank on how policing impacts on mental health.

It also says the programme should teach members how to counterbalance this negative impact and demand recognition for positive mental health initiatives undertaken through the performance management system.

Branches in Tipperary and the Garda College want the commissioner to establish a working group with the AGSI and experts to “analyse the impact of the current work environment on the mental health of members” and to develop a stress management policy for the organisation.

Three branches – Cavan/Monaghan, Galway and Louth – want the association to call on the commissioner to enhance the current welfare service by providing “face-to-face professional counselling service” or have sufficient sergeants trained to provide “mandatory” face-to-face debriefing/counselling to members involved in a traumatic incident.

The representatives defined a traumatic incident as one involving a fatality, where a life is in danger or where the circumstances of the incident are traumatic.

AGSI President Antoinette Cunningham said it was “opportune and overdue” that members’ welfare at work took centre stage.

“This year we will highlight a range of issues that Sergeants and Inspectors are dealing with as a direct result of their job," she said. "Never before have our members been so stressed, and given the rise in suicide rates within the force, we felt a real need to make welfare and wellbeing a red-line issue.”

Update 10.36am: Justice Minister to address Garda conference today

She said that this year will see a 90-minute segment dedicated to members’ welfare with Garda management, international policing and health experts participating. A number of AGSI members will share their personal stories on the trauma and stress they have experienced on the job.

Proper levels of supervision is also a major issue at the three-day conference, with Dublin Metropolitan Region West requesting a ratio of one sergeant to five gardaí and for the number of probationers just out of Templemore College not to exceed 25% of a station personnel.

Sources have expressed fear that with the current accelerated recruitment – with 800 being attested every year – that probationers are not being sufficiently monitored and guided by sergeants.

Sources said that many units only have one sergeant attached and that he or she is also responsible for the station and administration and is not able to supervise on the street.

Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin is due to address the conference tomorrow.

Mid-ranking gardaí will talk welfare and wellbeing at their annual conference today.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will address the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) when it meets in Carlow later.

AGSI President Antoinette Cunningham says it is opportune and overdue that conference focuses on garda welfare and wellbeing, adding that never before have gardaí been so stressed.

The Dublin branch of the AGSI wants a comprehensive suicide prevention programme to reduce its occurrence in the force, while the National Executive thinks there should be a review of the association's health insurance scheme relating to suicide.

Two motions on the negative impact of policing on garda mental health will also be debated at their annual conference, beginning this afternoon.

Sergeants and Inspectors from Kerry will ask the conference to consider equipping members properly for serious weather events such as Storm Ophelia.

While the Mayo branch is suggesting that any members facing discipline or a GSOC investigation should have their expenses in defending the allegations reimbursed.

- Digital desk



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