Garda boss appears at industrial tribunal involving part-time PSNI officers

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris appeared at an industrial tribunal hearing in Belfast (PA)
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris appeared at an industrial tribunal hearing in Belfast (PA)

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has denied seeking to limit the role of part-time officers following legal claims when he held a senior role within the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

He appeared at an industrial tribunal in Belfast on Friday to give evidence in a claim by part-time police officers that they had been discriminated against in terms of how they were treated compared with full-time colleagues.

A group of more than 200 current and former part-time officers are involved in the claim.

Mr Harris served as Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI from October 2014 under then Chief Constable George Hamilton.

National Police Memorial Day
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and former PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton (Niall Carson/PA)

He described management of resources, which included cuts and budget management, as being among his responsibilities.

In 2010, a group of 230 part-time police officers took an industrial tribunal case against the PSNI, claiming they were receiving less favourable treatment on the grounds of part-time status, entitlement to sick pay and holiday pay.

Friday’s hearing was told that in February 2015, the leadership of the PSNI was informed of a settlement offer and in the aftermath there was concern that more claims could be made by other part-time officers who had not been part of the action known as the Marks proceedings.

At that time there were around 462 part-time police officers in Northern Ireland who were required to do a minimum of 144 hours of service a year.

It was put to Mr Harris that it was then suggested part-time officers not be detailed for three months.

Mr Harris said a discussion of that is recorded in the minutes of a meeting on February 20 2015, but he was not sure if he led that discussion.

He also said that did not happen due to the operational requirement.

He described a review of part-time officers at that time as due to budget and efficient use of resources as well as the Marks case and other litigation.

“We had to consider all options, all options on the table in terms of managing this situation,” he said.

Describing his role as being concerned with the effective and efficient use of resources, he said the part-time officers were “effective to a point”.

The job description for the last recruitment of part time officers, which took place in 2004 and 2006, was read to the hearing, and included duties of full-time officers including patrolling, making arrests and processing, interviewing victims and witnesses.

Mr Harris said there were many developments in policing in the 2000s, and recommendations for improvements from bodies such as the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman.

Among these included training to create specialist officers to attend incidents of domestic violence.

“There was a lack of uniformity and consistency around how POPT (police officers part time) were being utilised,” he said.

“I’m aware that some POPT were performing minimum duties or no duties.”

It was put to Mr Harris that the cost of 462 part-time officers was the equivalent of 27 full-time officers.

Mr Harris said that was purely based on salary costs, and did not take into account support costs.

A further hearing is set to take place in January.