Garda Recruitment - Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes present

18 April 2013

http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2013041800024?opendocument

                        Garda Recruitment

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Garda Recruitment

Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and thank him for taking this matter. Like Senator Jillian van Turnhout's, my question is also directed to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and I am disappointed he cannot be present.

I would like to know if consideration has been given to the circumstances where a change may be effected to the upper age limit of 35 years for recruitment to An Garda Síochána. I had not anticipated that the issue of recruitment to An Garda Síochána would be in the news today for other reasons. My specific purpose in asking this question is to focus on the upper age limit for recruitment. I have received a communication from a constituent who has been prevented from applying to join the Garda Síochána because of the upper age limit of 35 years. My constituent is 37 years old and the recruitment requirement was introduced when she was 32 and unable to apply. She is conscious that age is not an issue in other jurisdictions, including for the Swedish police, Strathclyde Police which is now part of Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. I am told that the Scottish recruitment team was surprised to hear that there was an age bar in Ireland.

This matter has been the subject of questions in the Dáil; the most recent I can find is from Deputy Thomas P. Broughan on 12 July 2011. When he asked the Minister about the upper age limit, the Minister responded that he was giving consideration to the issue of the circumstances which might effect a change to the upper age limit for entry to An Garda Síochána. The Minister went on to outline the position and said recruitment was governed by statutory regulations, namely, the Garda Síochána Admission and Appointments Regulations 1988 and 2005. He also said the recruitment age had been considered as recently as 2004 when, on the recommendation of the Garda Commissioner, the maximum recruitment age was increased from 26 to 35 years, which, I acknowledge, was a substantial increase.

Given that a substantial and significant increase could be provided for in 2004, I wonder why the upper age limit of 35 years cannot be increased. The Minister's response to Deputy Thomas P. Broughan in 2011 was that consideration was being given to the issue. The Minister also gave as a reason for setting the upper age limit at 35 years the need to have regard to equality legislation. I cannot see where that is relevant, as I am sure equality legislation would pre-empt any arbitrary age limit being set. The current age limit appears to be somewhat arbitrary. While 35 years is perhaps a little more justifiable than 26 years, it is an age limit that might not be so objectively justifiable under equality legislation. The Minister gave three reasons for this in July 2011: the cost of training which I am not sure is valid; the need for recruits to serve for a sufficient period of time as full members of the service to recoup this cost, which is a more substantial reason; and the operational requirements of the service in terms of having an age profile appropriate to the physical demands placed on members in the course of their duty.

He then said:


Consideration is being given to changing the upper age limit, in limited circumstances, in a way which would be beneficial to An Garda Síochána. The Garda Síochána ... Regulations 2006 already allow the Public Appointments Service to give due recognition to any satisfactory service by a person as a reserve member of the Garda Síochána.

I think I am correct in saying there is no age limit for joining the Garda Reserve.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Brian Hayes): Yes.

Senator Ivana Bacik: I am right. There is no age bar for the Garda Reserve. It sometimes carries out front-line Garda work but it does not have full Garda powers. I simply ask, in the light of a direct request from a constituent, whether there have been updates since July 2011. Has the Minister given consideration to changing the upper age limit for entry? If the age limit was raised in 2004 by a significant amount, it should be possible to raise it again. The three arguments given by him do not seem to me to be sufficiently weighty to justify 37 years as being too old. The third issue of operational reasons is a matter of physical fitness which could be the subject of a very different test and perhaps does not require a blanket or rigid age limit. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's response.

Deputy Brian Hayes: I thank the Senator for raising the matter. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who is unable to attend.

As the Senator rightly stated, the age limit is set out in statutory regulations. She has already put those regulations, for the information of Senators, on the agenda of the House. She also acknowledged that there had been a substantial increase in the age limit from 26 years to 35 years.

I understand from the Minister that the upper age limit of 35 years was set following a comprehensive examination of the issues surrounding recruitment to the Garda Síochána. In particular, the assessment took account of developments in equality legislation and the Senator asked a question about it but I cannot sufficiently answer her at this point. She also outlined the criteria: the cost of training; the need for recruits to serve for a sufficient period as full-time members of the service to recoup the cost; and the operational requirements of the service. Having considered all the relevant matters, the Garda Commissioner recommended that the recruitment age be extended from its then limit of 26 years to a revised limit of 35 years. The Minister agreed with his recommendation which led to the introduction of revised regulations.

The Minister does not have any proposals to increase the recruitment age for entry to the Garda Síochána at this time. He believes that when recruitment begins again, as it inevitably must, there will be a sufficient pool of suitably qualified and eligible candidates who will be provided with excellent training at the Garda College in Templemore and on the job in Garda stations throughout the country.

The training programme was recently revised as a result of the recommendations contained in the report of the review group on training and development in the Garda Síochána. Following the publication of the report, a working group was set up to examine the current entry requirements and amend, if necessary, the Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) Regulations to accommodate the recommended changes to the student-probationer training programme. The aim is to improve and realign recruitment training in line with best practice in order to meet the new challenges of a changing society. It is anticipated that the amended regulations will be finalised in the near future.

The Minister has asked me to point out that there is an ongoing civilianisation programme in the Garda Síochána. While the moratorium on recruitment in the public service still applies, the recruitment age for civilian staff is well in excess of 35 years of age.

Senator Ivana Bacik: I thank the Minister of State for his response but some of it reflects what was said in the Dáil in 2011. The updated part of his response refers to the report of the review on training and development in the Garda Síochána. I am not sure when the report was published. I am glad to hear that a working group was established, following publication, to examine the entry requirements and amend, if necessary, the regulations. Given that the regulations also set the minimum age limit I hope that, at the very least, some consideration will be given in the working out of changes to the regulations to increase the minimum age. I ask the Minister to State to convey my following comment to the Minister. One might anticipate that the working group would examine the minimum age in the course of generally examining the recommended changes to the regulations. It would be a good opportunity to do so and would be in keeping with the Minister's previous response that consideration was being given to the circumstances where an increase in the age limit could be affected.

Deputy Brian Hayes: The Senator made a helpful suggestion. There is a process under way to examine the amended regulations and I understand the working group is due to submit its report in the near future. It is important and opportune that the Senator raised the matter. I hope the question of limitation of age would be part and parcel of the work of the working group.

As the Senator mentioned, there are special circumstances, from time to time, where an individual might apply to be a member of the Garda Síochána. There should be some flexibility in that regard, particularly if people can bring expertise and specialist knowledge to the force. That would be a logical outcome of what we are trying to encourage in terms of members of the Garda Síochána. I shall convey the Senator's view to the Minister for Justice and Equality and ask him to consider the matter in the context of the working group.

Senator Ivana Bacik: I thank the Minister of State.