The Minister for Justice has said that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will put forward options to try to resolve a dispute over rosters when he meets the four garda associations tomorrow.

Helen McEntee met the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) today to discuss a range of issues, including the difficulties with rostering.

Ms McEntee said she hopes that all parties engage constructively and in good faith to reach agreement.

Commissioner Harris plans to reintroduce the so-called Westmanstown Roster - the only agreed roster - in November, despite opposition from the GRA.

It has also emerged that, in 2019, a confidential internal garda report found the roster was "not fit for purpose".

But Garda Headquarters said that it can no longer continue with the current temporary Covid-19 roster because it is not suitable for current policing demands.

The confidential report found that the roster the commissioner plans to reintroduce on 6 November "does not provide sufficient resources" to police the country and "is not fit for purpose".

The Roster Reform Project Report - finalised in 2019 - also concluded that the Westmanstown Roster results in an immediate 20% reduction in resources per garda unit and leads to "ineffective supervision and management".

The report describes the roster as "limited" and inflexible, and highlights the difficulties in "investigation continuity" because of the rest days gardaí are required to take.

The Westmanstown Roster is the root cause of the difficulties between rank-and-file gardaí and Commissioner Harris.

Westmanstown Roster 'inflexible' and 'prevents adequate planning

This pre-pandemic roster requires gardaí to work six days in a row instead of the current four days and that is something they do not want to do.

They say they would lose money and have a worse work-life balance, and they want to remain on the current temporary "Covid Roster".

RTÉ News has learned that garda management and the commissioner were aware four years ago of the difficulties with the "Westmanstown Roster", which he plans to reinstate on 6 November.

The Roster Reform Project Report, finalised on 27 June 2019, found "the current number of units (5) does not provide sufficient resources" and results "in an immediate 20% reduction in the number of members per unit".

At the time there were 14,336 sworn gardaí, but the report said that "additional resourcing had not been recruited to bridge this gap".

Since then, the numbers in An Garda Síochána have further declined and there are now 13,900 gardaí - almost 500 fewer.

The report identified "ineffective supervision and management of overlapping shifts which occur at inopportune times" specifically from Monday to Wednesday.

It pointed out "the inflexibility" of the roster with "starting and finishing times inhibiting any adjustment to meet the demand of region or function, as required".

This "inflexibility" along with "the limited definition of extraordinary events ... prevents adequate planning for predictable non-routine events that occur throughout the country".

The report also stated that "investigation continuity is a challenge … due to the four rest days required by members at the end of the working week."

It recommended "the adaption of a tailored roster framework" to "address the challenges of different regions and functions," further research on supply and demand, "the urgent roll-out of a Roster Management System throughout the country", the continuation of external stakeholder engagement and follow up with the Department of Justice.

The report concluded that "the current roster is not fit for purpose and reform is required."

The "Westmanstown Roster" was also strongly criticised by the Garda Inspectorate in a report in 2015.

Changing Policing in Ireland found the creation of a fifth unit was "not viewed as beneficial" and "the number of resources … was reduced."

It also said that "shift overlaps" were "not necessary", "not considered an effective use of resources in rural area," and "creates an additional supervision difficulty".

The Garda Representative Association said the report "simply states exactly what the GRA have been saying for months. An Garda Síochána simply cannot provide the resources necessary to man this fifth unit without seriously negatively affecting services to the public".

It said it previously "tabled a solution based on four units which would allow management to maximize resources on the frontline while maintaining the numbers in specialised units. No units would need to be disbanded or redeployed as will happen under the commissioner's current plan".

General Secretary Ronan Slevin also said the fact that the gardaí actually commissioned their own report which concluded that the roster was unfit for purpose "makes it all the more infuriating that the Commissioner would push for it to be reintroduced. In fact, it’s simply illogical".

Commissioner Harris speaking to gardaí last week

Garda Headquarters said while it does not comment on internal reports the proposed new roster to replace the Westmanstown Roster was rejected by the GRA and the AGSI after 64 day-long meetings and negotiations over three years, most of which were under an independent chair.

It said that after the ending of the Covid-19 national emergency, it was clear that the roster did not meet the demands of the public for greater garda visibility, the policing requirements of a dynamic crime environment, and the needs of victims.

In response, it said the commissioner has decided to return to the only roster agreed to by all garda associations including the GRA - the Westmanstown Roster - with the aim of increasing of garda visibility and providing greater victim engagement.

It also pointed out that the commissioner has repeatedly invited the garda staff associations to attend the Workplace Relations Commission, the State’s industrial relations dispute resolution mechanism, to discuss the rosters issue and find a solution.

Members of An Garda Síochána, and their staff associations were provided statutory access to the WRC in 2019.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said that "in light of the fact that AGSI are meeting with the Garda Commissioner on Thursday, any comment on rosters would be inappropriate at this time".

The reintroduction of the roster will mean the dismantling of some specialist units including local street crime units and the Dublin Crime Response Team which was based at Dublin Castle and responsible for significant drugs, cash and firearms seizures.

Garda Headquarters said that any unit that was formally established as part of a competition for members, such as drugs and traffic units will not be disbanded but may experience a reduction in numbers.