A tale of two services

(Image: An Garda Síochána)

A recent Oireachtas committee has heard how one critical public service is vastly underfunded for ICT compared to another equally vital one

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11 May 2018 | 0

Some government departments and services are well funded, though few will admit it, and some blatantly are not.

Some have deep technical knowledge in ICT and a proven track record in designing, implementing and operating top level services, and have been recognised for it. Some, clearly, have not.

Revenue has been rightly held up on various occasions as an example of well thought out, secure and robust services to both the public and other users, based on solid systems, good design and efficient operation. However, it has recently been used as an example for something far less flattering.

Reporting in the Independent, Kevin Doyle writes that a statement from Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin was read to an Oireachtas committee regarding the state of ICT in An Garda Síochána.

“The number of people employed in Garda ICT is significantly lower than those of similarly sized public sector organisations such as the Revenue Commissioners, Department of Agriculture and Department of Social Protection”

According to Ó Cualáin, the Gardaí have significantly less ICT resources than the likes of Revenue. He said it is vital that the force be allowed recruit civilian resources to help maintain “critical policing and national security ICT systems on a 24/7 365 basis”.

The statement said: “When talking about ICT investment in An Garda Síochána, it is important to put this in context. Due to the economic downturn and the subsequent decision of successive governments to reduce funding to the Garda organisation and put in place an embargo on civilian recruitment, the ICT budget was reduced significantly – capital expenditure reduced by 50% and operational expenditure by 43%.”

“In addition, the number of people employed in ICT is significantly lower than those of similarly sized public sector organisations such as the Revenue Commissioners, Department of Agriculture and Department of Social Protection.”

This situation is quite baffling.

So wanting
When the benefits of ICT in supporting modern public services are so unequivocal, how can one of the most vital public services be left so wanting?

While it is understandable that when budgets are allocated to the force they might tend to go on policing rather than IT, it seems ridiculous that in the current climate, such swinging cuts as those cited above could be made to services so vital.

It has long been documented that the Garda PULSE system is unwieldy, slow, inefficient and even not fit for purpose. At least part of this must be down to poor infrastructure and creaking architecture struggling to support its needs.

The direct knock-on from this is that there has been alleged misuse of the system. It has been reported that many individual Gardaí have used a single log-in to interact with the system. This has been due to the fact that to log out and back in again as someone else takes too long.

Such practices have been cited as a contributory factor not only in the breath test reporting scandal, but now it seems in the reporting of the most serious of crimes.

Operatives
After reviews, which involved civilian operatives, it was found that some 12 cases that had been recorded otherwise, were re-classified as homicides. The resultant methodology recommended by the civilian operatives from the Garda Analysis Service means that some 41 other cases will be reviewed.

However, the committee further heard that to date, only 12 of the 41 case reviews had been completed. Furthermore, the review team has identified a number of changes recommended for the PULSE system, but which “due to the volume of work” the review, let alone the changes, will not be completed by initial estimated time.

The statement said the review team is committed to completing the work as quickly as possible while ensuring that “each individual incident” will be “thoroughly and comprehensively reviewed”.

This is an utterly appalling state of affairs for the nation’s police force.

Over-reliance
It has been pointed by various critics, including independent TD Mick Wallace, that there is an over-reliance on external contractors, with the Accenture support deal coming in for particular scrutiny and criticism. However, if there is such critical underfunding, as well as widespread misuse of systems, then it would seem there is little choice among Garda management to do otherwise.

But the situation gets worse. Doyle’s coverage goes on to document, as does RTE News, how badly treated the two civilian operatives from the Garda Analysis Service were when they brought their concerns to authorities. They were allegedly ridiculed and belittled. How is the force to attract the kind of external ICT skills it needs to modernise and succeed when this is what can be expected when issues are identified?

A modern, connected, digitally-enabled police force is absolutely necessary for the country, not only for the obvious reasons of justly serving its citizens, but as we seek to make ourselves a destination for technology and other industries, how can we stand over claims of the best little country in which to do business with a 20th century police force? And not even from the good end.

As many security commentators have pointed out before, the need for Ireland, as a data island, to do more to protect the security of critical infrastructure is great. However, it seems the first job is to drag our policing service out of the mire of slow, inefficient, poorly maintained applications and infrastructure, if we are to even be able to investigate crime in the country.

Precarious
There are ambitious plans within the force to be able to leverage technology, such as drones, facial recognition, body cameras and more, but how are these to be supported if core infrastructure is left so precariously under-resourced?

While there have been recent successes, such as the new vehicle fleet equipped with the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (APNR) system, it seems piling on layers of additional services might be counter productive if the platforms and infrastructure to support them are simply not up to the job, or so poorly supported as to be unprepared for failure.

The most recent Ulster Bank failures, the latest in a litany of same, show graphically, the consequences of repeated and consistent failure to invest in core infrastructure. What kind of failure will it take in An Garda Síochána before the powers that be, both political and administrative, take note and provide proper resourcing for personnel, budget and freedom to recruit?

One shudders to think.

 

 

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