Only a third of the country’s network of over 560 garda stations has experienced an increase in staffing levels in the past five years, despite almost 2,800 extra gardaí joining the force over the period.
An analysis of the latest manpower figures at individual stations published by the Department of Justice shows the number of gardaí in two-thirds of stations has remained static or fallen since the lifting of the recruitment embargo in 2014.
The figures show that Garda stations in the main cities and towns have been the main beneficiaries of the growing strength of the force. Garda numbers reached their highest level since 2010 at the end of last year when the total reached 14,307 officers.
A total of 192 out of 565 stations have had additional gardaí assigned since 2015, while there’s been no change in staffing levels in 240 stations.
However, 133 stations have fewer gardaí than five years ago including several large stations including Bray (down 26 to 96); Shankill (down 18 to 43); Mayorstone Park, Limerick (down 17 to 54); Rathfarnham (down 16 to 53), Santry (down 12 to 82) and Watercourse Road, Cork (down 10 to 37).
Other towns with fewer gardaí include Sligo, Kells, Greystones, Moate and Dunboyne.
In contrast at least 50 extra officers have been assigned to several stations over the same period including Portlaoise, Waterford, Henry Street in Limerick, Store Street and Kevin Street in Dublin and Anglesea Street in Cork.
Other stations to have staffing levels increased by 30-50 gardaí include Kilkenny, Tallaght, Drogheda, Letterkenny, Leixlip, Ballincollig and Balbriggan.
As probation gardaí are initially assigned to larger stations for purposes of supervision, the deployment of new recruits has been limited to 93 of the larger stations.
Criminologist and University of Limerick law lecturer, Johnny Connolly, said as a member of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, he found it was impossible to tell where resources were needed “without demand information.”
“The commission recognised a need for a workforce plan based on accurate data which exists in most other modern police forces. I believe it is now under way,” Dr Connolly said.
We need to see a greater visibility of gardaí on the beat over the next few years. It doesn’t matter where they’re based but where they’re seen.
Dr Connolly said there was also need for a debate on what the point was in having gardaí based in isolated rural stations.
“It might reassure people but it won’t have any relation to the crime rate,” he observed.
On a divisional level, the figures show the number of gardaí has increased in 26 out of the 28 divisions over the past five years with significant allocation of personnel to Laois/Offaly (up 34%); Louth (+29%), Kildare (+27%), Waterford (+ 26%),Wexford (+25%) and Cavan and Dublin South Central (both 22%).
The only two divisions with fewer gardaí since the end of 2014 are Wicklow (down 3%) and Dublin East (-1%).
Official figures show there are now 31 stations with no dedicated garda assigned to them including five stations which lost their permanent garda during 2019: Ballylanders, Co Limerick; Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny; Longwood, Co Meath; Rathmullen, Co Donegal and Shillelagh, Co Wicklow.
At the same time, 14 other stations had a permanent garda restored last year. They included Knock, Co Mayo; Rosses Point, Co Sligo and Toomevara, Co Tipperary as well as the reopened station in Ballinspittle, Co Cork which was one of 139 stations closed during the recession.
The figures also show that the large recruitment drive which has resulted in the hiring of 2,769 new gardaí since the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore in September 2014 has been offset by large numbers either retiring or leaving the force over the same period.
Official figures show an average of 227 gardaí have retired each year over the past five years with the net increase in personnel since the end of 2014 just over 1,500.
The Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan said the figures are on track to reach the Government’s target of a total of 15,000 gardaí as part of an overall workforce of 21,000 by 2021.
Mr Flanagan said civilian staff numbers had also increased significantly over the past few years and were up by almost 850 to 2,900 since 2014.
“The accelerated recruitment of Garda staff is facilitating the development of gardaí from administrative to mainstream policing duties where their training and expertise can be used to best effect,” Mr Flanagan said.
He claimed the combination of overall increase in Garda and civilian staff numbers meant there had been a significant increase in operational policing hours nationwide in recent years.
The Garda Press Office said local management closely monitored the allocation of all resources in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies.
A Garda spokesperson the allocation of gardaí was designed to ensure optimum use was made of resources at district, divisional and regional level and to provide the best possible service to the public.
“Senior Garda management is satisfied that an adequate policing service continues to be delivered and that current structures in place meet the requirement to deliver an effective and efficient policing service to the community,” the spokesperson added.
Garda said staffing levels across divisions was not determined by population alone and comparisons on that basis were “overly simplistic”.