C: Irish Navy

Ireland’s two-boat navy, and public sector flight

Yesterday, on this platform, we published a story about the decline in teacher numbers in Ireland ahead of the new school year, with over 1,000 vacancies in Irish schools. At approximately the same time, the national broadcaster published a similar story about the decline in Garda numbers, with more and more Gardai saying they’ve had enough and leaving the force.

Then, via the Irish Times, came the kicker:

Readers might notice a pattern: The service arms of the Irish state appear to be having grave difficulty recruiting, and retaining, staff.

In the case of teachers, which we can speak to since that one was our report, the apparent reasons go beyond mere pay: Teachers feel increasingly over-worked, under appreciated, and given the opposite of support from their employers and management. In the case of the Gardai, per RTE, the same thing is true:

He says he spent endless hours inputting information to the incidents and operations database, PULSE, including bogus calls.

“Half the day would feel like it was wasted basically on admin.”

One of his greatest bugbears, however, was the low morale at rank-and-file level, something highlighted by the Garda Representative Association (GRA). It has led to a recent “no confidence” motion on the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

The result, which is widely seen as a foregone conclusion in favour of the vote, is due in mid-September.

Luke says the low morale came from a culture of fear and discipline from the top.

Ask teachers about days wasted on admin, and low morale, and a culture of fear and discipline, and they’ll say the exact same things. Ask a soldier or a sailor in the armed forces, and, per the Irish Times, you get hints of the same problem:

“This is disappointing but not surprising. It’s an example of the Naval Service cutting its cloth to measure, due to an inability to attract and, more importantly, retain personnel,” said Conor King, general secretary of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers.

“The reasons for this are well known; failure to implement safe and fair working conditions and failure to pay adequate allowances for hours worked.”

When people are leaving teaching, policing, and soldiering in large numbers, and largely for the same reasons, it stands to reason that the problems with retaining personnel are common across the entire public service – or at least the front-line strands of it. It is worth noting that similar issues have been observed in health for years, with an exodus of Irish doctors and nurses to Australia and elsewhere having been well-documented.

It is also notable that similar issues do not appear to be blighting the less front-line elements of the public sector: There is no noted exodus from the civil service, or from the revenue commissioners, or from county council offices. The services affected all have one thing in common – that they are public facing.

We veer into opinion here, but one based on evidence: If your public facing public services have become increasingly intolerable to those working in them, the likeliest and most probable cause is political interference.

After all, the politicians are desperate to present to the public the notion that these services are well managed, which invariably leads to the kind of micromanagement that makes actually working in those services intolerable. Thus, teachers cannot teach a class without first preparing a lesson plan – one which will likely never be read by anyone, but which can get them into trouble if an inspector asks to see it and it cannot be produced. Gardai spend half their day filling out forms. Soldiers and sailors work long shifts for poor pay in the name of efficiency. The more you try to make the services palatable to the voters, the less tolerable you make them for the people actually carrying them out.

The other factor, I suspect, is our old friend “elite overproduction” – put simply, as a society we are producing from the universities endless managers and overseers, and diversity officers, and inclusion program managers, and they all need something to do. Making the lives of teachers and nurses and Gardai and soldiers into a sort of living hell is a job, if nothing else. And the more people leave those jobs, the more managers and overseers we need, to find out what the issue is and try to “improve” things.

The bottom line is that the Government’s priorities must be questioned: The state is spending endless funds on supporting non-productive sectors, like the sprawling NGO and lobbying sector. It is clearly not spending what it needs to keep the country supplied with nurses and doctors and teachers and Gardai. And that is at the root of many of our problems.


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