The State’s expert Garda reform agency says the restructuring announced by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is a “significant step” towards better policing.
The Garda Inspectorate, whose landmark inspection report of 2015 forms the basis of the new plan, said the revamp should provide a “less costly” and “more efficient” service.
The reaction of the inspectorate was echoed by the Policy Authority, which said the commissioner’s reforms represent the “most significant structural change” in the organisation’s history.
The plan will reduce the number of Garda divisions from 28 to 19, and reduce garda regions from six to four. There will be major internal restructuring within divisions, regarding how policing services are delivered.
The Garda Inspectorate’s 380-page Changing Policing in Ireland report sets out the case for both the reduction in divisions and the internal restructuring of them.
Commenting on the commissioner’s plan, Chief Inspector Mark Toland said rationalising the number of divisions would create “significant benefits”, including “an increase in the number of frontline resources” and a more responsive service.
He said it also provides “an opportunity” to reduce the numbers of gardaí in back offices and cut management and administrative overheads.
He supports the new internal model, saying it will “release large numbers of gardaí, sergeants, and inspectors” from non-operational duties to frontline roles. Mr Toland said the commissioner’s reforms are a “significant step” towards a leaner management and improved local policing.
The Policing Authority welcomed the commissioner’s plan, saying it was “consistent” with the inspectorate’s report, the Government’s 2016 decision to replace the Garda district model with the functional divisional model, and the recent report of the Commission on the Future of Policing.
The authority said the cut in divisions and regions will deliver a “more visible and responsive policing service” and had the “potential” to release gardaí from office duties to frontline roles.
It said the model should result in an “increase in Garda resources” and greater autonomy at divisional level.
But a number of garda representative associations expressed concern, including the Association of Garda Superintendents, representing local garda bosses, and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, representing frontline management.
The Association of Garda Chief Superintendents is also concerned. The Garda Representative Association, representing rank and file, welcomed both the assurances from the Commissioner that he would listen to its feedback and the commitment to improve local policing.