post for Granard Garda
Chris Lee becomes Vice-President of GRA.
Granard based Garda Chris Lee was recently elected to the
prestigious role of Vice President of the Garda Representative
Association following the annual conference. At a time when
Garda morale is at an all time low following the tragic
death of fellow members, the recent surge in young offenders
and the damaging public perception of the Garda Siochana
after such events like the May Day Rally , we spoke to Chris
Lee about life within the service and his future plans as
the vice president of the GRA.
Somewhat of a modest man, Chris Lee readily admits that
he did not expect to be elected as Vice President of the
GRA but it is a job that he takes on with great pride and
a determination to see change for the better within the
force. Forty six year old Garda Lee has 24 years service
in An Garda Siochana and over nine years with the GRA Executive.
He is also chairman of the Garda Benevolent Trust Fund.
He spent his early service in Donegal and Dublin and is
now based in Granard. A native of Mullingar, Co Westmeath
Garda Lee is married with two children.
Garda Lee contested the election for Vice President with
the Dublin based Garda Bernie Connell. He will of course
remain a Garda member of Granard Station but daily duties
will be regularly interspersed with executive GRA meetings.
Im still a uniformed member attached to Granard
Garda station and that will continue to be the case. I will
of course now be involved in executive meetings in Dublin
and I would hope to be the best representative that I possibly
can for members in my own division of Longford/Westmeath
and on a national basis, explained Chris.
So what changes does the newly elected vice president of
the GRA envisage for the force? One of the key concerns
for Garda Lee as manifested in his own division of Longford/Westmeath
is the issue of lack of available manpower. The pre-election
promise from Fianna Fail to provide an additional 2,000
Gardaí is not a realistic figure according to Garda
Chris Lee as he explained, The figure of 2,000 extra
Garda is not achievable, Templemore College is working to
its full capacity at the moment and there would be
enormous difficulties to provide such extra numbers.
He recognises the need for extra numbers within the force
however saying The present practice sees more and
more members retiring after thirty years service at the
age of fifty plus so Gardaí are constantly being
taken out of the loop. The Longford/Westmeath division is
evidence of such a serious lack of manpower and in my view
it does not meet the necessary requirements.
As many members within the Longford/Westmeath division are
engaged in UN duty, courts, sick leave etc on any given
day, it can effect the manpower within the Garda units.
In such circumstances it seems that Lanesboro Garda station
regularly suffers as Garda Lee explained. We have
four units in Longford station and a unit consists of one
sergeant and seven members so depending on other duties
it can have a serious impact on the strength of the unit.
Take Lanesboro station for example, manpower is taken from
there on an ongoing basis to support the units in Longford
and this is extremely unsatisfactory.
The area of rural manpower is obviously one issue which
Garda Lee will be vigorously pursing within the GRA and
he is determined to witness change.
Longford is regarded as a rural division with no major urban
centre and we have difficulty with that concept as we still
have a host of problems that need to be addressed and society
expects more and more of us.
Following the Dublin based May Day Rally when the Garda
clashed with hundreds of protesters there has been a damaging
effect on the public perception of the Garda. Garda Lee
admits that morale among members has been seriously effected
but he is keen to hold his council on such issues until
a full investigation is completed. He is somewhat critical
of the Minister for Justice, John ODonoghue however,
as in the aftermath of the rally the minister did not immediately
accept the findings of the Garda Commissioner. I was
surprised that the Minister made such comments which did
not necessarily accept the findings of the Garda Commissioner.
It was a most professional investigation of the Garda Siochana
and for the minister to question such findings was a slur
on his integrity and his ability to investigate.
The vice President of the GRA was highly critical of the
medias coverage of the rally incident claiming that
a mardi gras type event was wrongly portrayed. The
media painted a picture of a mardi gras type thing and that
was not the case. Somewhere between Temple Bar and Dame
Street attitudes changed. We need to wait until a full investigation
comes out. There were a lot of public order incidents prior
to the rally and all that is only coming to light. The media
in general paint a particular picture of the Garda which
is usually unfair and unbalanced.
Chris is keen to point out that regular MRBI polls indicate
a public satisfaction with the Garda which is contrary to
the image constantly portrayed by the media.
MRBI polls show public satisfaction to be quite high
and most police forces would give their right arms to have
such levels of public satisfaction.
The number of young offenders has risen significantly over
the past few years with a dramatic increase in the public
order offences regularly committed. Joy riding
incidents have resulted in the recent tragic Gardaí
and civilian deaths and the policing of young offenders
continues to pose a spiralling problem for Garda members.
Plans for a new detention centre for 14-15 year olds in
St Patricks Institution will cost £9 million
and while some opponents to the new centre claim it will
merely serve as a warehousing of children, Garda
Chris Lee believes such centres are a necessity. The
new facility in Dublin has to be welcomed. If society wants
to rehabilitate young offenders there needs to be an educational
nature of course if anything is going to change. The idea
of lock them up and throw away the key - well at times thats
necessary and these people have to be removed. I dont
see any real improvement in the immediate future, it is
nearly impossible to rehabilitate some young offenders,
they have a very poor start in life and very little parental
Chris is somewhat critical of the role of Health Boards
in such situations and he feels that in reality the Gardai
are expected to be able to deal with all eventualities.
If were dealing with a young offender at 3 or
4am and we cant contact the parents the problem is
left to the Gardai and they may not always have the qualifications
to deal with such issues all of the time. The Health Board
tend to work 9-5pm and are not always perhaps aware but
the Gardai are usually left to carry the can.
The Vice President of the GRA admits that alcohol is a major
contributory factor to the rise in the number of young offenders
and he has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of
public order offences. There is an aggression in young
people that wasnt there before and that is evident
in the number of public order offences and assaults. There
just isnt the same level of respect for Gardai as
there was heretofore.
The GRA has serious concerns about the proposed Garda Inspectorate,
it declared at its recent annual conference. They are firmly
of the view that had the Complaints Board which was set
up in 1986 been given enough resources both financially
and in personnel, there would have been no need for a new
Inspectorate. Instead this Board was left to languish with
little funding or resources, believe the GRA. As Chris highlighted
the GRA are opposed to the investigation of criminal activity
by this inspectorate - I fully expect that the Inspectorate
will come in but we would be concerned that it works in
a fair and just manner. Criminal activity is a matter for
the courts however.
While Chris readily accepts that the public have the right
to make complaints against the Gardai he is concerned that
the complaints Board system was perhaps abused with a number
of unfair complaints. The system was being abused
with a number of complaints of a vexatious nature and while
such complaints were obvious all matters had to be fully
investigated which meant that an innocent Garda would have
to go through months of this process. But surely independent
oversight is a matter of reality and is to permanent feature
of policing for the future?
We accept that the Inspectorate is going to come in,
thats just a matter of fact. If it deals with complaints
in a fair and just manner in an independent capacity then
we will judge it on those merits.
The decision by the Minister for Justice to recommend the
establishment of a public inquiry into the fatal shooting
of John Carthy was announced in April two years since the
Abbeylaras man death. John Carthy was shot dead outside
his home in Toneymore, Abbeylara by members of the Emergency
Response Unit when he emerged from his home after a 25 hour
siege on 20 April 2000. This Garda representatives and the
Irish Council for Civil Liberties supported the Minister
for Justices call for a public inquiry into the death
of John Carthy. Chris maintained that the Gardai were vindicated
by the High Court and Supreme Court rulings which stated
that the Oireachtas sub-committee had no inherent
power to set up an inquiry which was likely to lead
to findings of fact or expression of opinion adverse to
the good name of people who are not members of the Oireachtas.
Politicians set themselves up as court inquisitors
and while I am reluctant to use the word it was somewhat
of a kangaroo court. The public inquiry will hopefully take
place before the end of the year and everyone associated
with Abbeylara will be able to tell their side of the story.
I am fully convinced that all the queries raised will be
answered and then everyone associated with the case and
the general public at large will have possibility to make
the proper judgements. The Gardai were involved in a trial
by media and they have had to live through this as have
the Carthy family. Throughout all of the media speculation
however, there come a point when the fundamental issue which
is the death of John Carthy has been lost somewhere along
the way, said Chris.
So will the long awaited public inquiry into the death of
John Carthy finally bring about some sense of closure for
the Carthy family, the Gardai and the general public. Chris
believes so. I am privy to certain things and I know
that when the public inquiry comes about and all the facts
are out in the open, a sense of closure will come.
Changes within the Gardai
One of the major causes for concern to the newly elected
Vice President of the GRA is the immediate necessity to
introduce purpose built patrol cars to the Gardai Siochana.
Indeed it was a matter which he spoke passionately about
at the GRA conference. Referring to the recent traffic accident
in Kinnegad when Garda members were involved in a horrific
crash while pursing criminals in a stolen car, Garda Chris
Lee believes change is long over due. Its obvious
that Garda members came within an inch of their lives during
that incident and there is evidence that if there had been
side impact air bags, it could have possibly have prevented
some of the injuries suffered by the members. The day of
the ordinary family saloon is gone and we need purpose built
patrol cars to protect safety of members. In the Kinnegad
incident a decision was taken in order to avoid the people
of Kinnegad being injured and in taking that decision they
were aware of the possible consequences and they nearly
lost their lives because of it. Sometimes the public forget
that and may take the Gardai for granted.
Accommodation issues within the Longford/Westmeath division
is another area of concern for Chris as he highlights the
fact that a number of stations within the division are in
urgent need of upgrading. Stations in Castlepollard
and Ballymore are in need of upgrading and this is just
one of the many issues I will be addressing.
In relation to payment issues, Garda Lee is hopeful that
the Benchmarking review body for public sector pay which
is due to report back at the end of June will be positive.
I hope that the results of the benchmarking body will
recognise the contribution that Gardai have made to this
society. Afterall the Gardai are just a group of ordinary
men and women who at times do an extraordinary job.
- courtesy of the Longford Leader
Friday 7th June 2002