I heard someone remark on the radio a few weeks ago that we might have an epidemic of the blue flu again. He was of course not referring to anything blowing in from Africa but to the creative way the Gardai have used, in the past, to express their dissatisfaction with how they were handled and rewarded. The current dissatisfaction is around unequal treatment of some categories of Gardai within the force. It is hoped that a new review of Garda pay and conditions will address these and other concerns. I have my doubts.

I believe that any review of the pay and conditions of the Gardai would need to go to the heart of the role of the Gardai in our society. At present, their prime role is based on picking up the pieces from the injustices of the unequal and unfair society we have created. Like garbage collectors. At one end of the story they are given laws to administer in which they have had no hand or part. At the other end they are hung out to dry by lawyers, courts and judges, as if they were the guilty ones. In between they spend their days and nights dealing with thousands of cases where those laws and society itself tragically and horribly break down in the lives of people – offenders and victims. We take it all for granted ignoring the fact that it is our dregs, our garbage, they are dealing with.

What is happening is that we are treating the Gardai like we treat all employees – “We will tell you what to do, and you just get on with it! Yours is not to ask why but yours to do or die – and you will get paid as well” kind of thing! What is wrong is that this way of treating people at work is damaging to everyone involved – the organisation itself and the workers or people involved. What is wrong is that no amount of pay is appropriate reward for people’s service and especially so in the case of the Gardai.

The alternative – employees engaged in, contributing to, and feeling part of every aspect of the organization – would have serious repercussions in the case of the role of the Gardai and would bring wonderful benefits for all of us in society. It would mean that:

Gardai would be consulted on all legislation that may have implications for people’s lives in society.
They would play a central role in communities, such as:

  • Being party to the establishment of major changes in the infrastructure of a community.
  • Having a role in whatever governing body operates in the community.
  • Being available for advice on all matters affecting the community and its people.
  • Act as a real centre or hub for community representatives engaged in Neighbourhood Watch and similar roles.
  • Monitor and support the integration of immigrants to communities and so on.

Some of this may sound new and strange. However, it is just this kind of thing that I believe our Gardai do so well. Of course there will be exceptions but my own 100% experience from my dealings with An Garda Siochana is one of common sense, understanding, fairness, good judgment and respect. They are made for playing these kinds of rich roles.

And pay for all this? I don’t know. They seem a unique category. But, one thing I do know is that when you give people – be they Gardai or whomever – work that is meaningful, and you give people responsibility, and you treat them with respect, and you involve them in everything, and you make the most of their innate intelligence and gifts, pay is never an issue. Nor would it be here either. When you don’t, there is no pleasing people, and rightly so because people long for meaning in their lives including their work lives.

This is about Gardai and it is not about Gardai. They are just one very obvious example of the damage we do to people and society when we stop seeing and treating people as rich, powerful human beings. And it is an obvious example of the lost opportunity that is staring us in the face if we only had the confidence to really trust and empower people.