Call for increase in garda numbers

Middle-ranking gardaí are calling for the strength of the force to be increased to “minimal numbers of 14,000”, more than 1,000 in excess of those available.

Representatives are also seeking backing from colleagues to requests that uniformed gardaí be allowed to carry firearms.

The calls are being made at the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, which represents around 2,000 supervisory officers.

The conference, starting today, will hear sergeants spend “little or no time” supervising rank-and-file gardaí on patrols because of a mounting bureaucratic burden — contrary to the recommendations of a Garda Inspectorate report.

Falling Garda numbers are expected to dominate debate, with delegates from Kilkenny/Carlow and Kerry calling for urgent efforts to stem the fall in the strength of the force. Their motion calls on the AGSI national executive “to actively seek that the force number be brought up, to stop Garda numbers falling below 13,000, and strive to achieve minimal numbers of 14,000”.

The AGSI has repeatedly raised serious concerns about the strength of the force, although it has welcomed the restart of recruitment. There are currently 299 recruits at different stages, with the first 100 due into their stations in May and the remaining in August and September.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan last week told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that 325 recruits were needed every year just to maintain the force at 13,000. The last official figures put the strength of the force at 12,799.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said 325 was on the “conservative side”. He said the force faced an “exodus”, with an estimated 1,498 members eligible to retire.

He said official figures showed 230 gardaí were on career breaks, although their numbers are included in the 12,799 figure. On top of that, up to 500 members are on sick leave.

AGSI bosses are likely to raise the issue given the attendance of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who will addresses delegates tonight.

Delegates from Wexford and Dublin Metropolitan Region East have put down a motion calling on the Garda commissioner to set aside a budget to allow for the allocation of extra manpower to cover the temporary loss of personnel through parental leave, career breaks or maternity leave.

They suggest creating a panel of retired members who could be called in.

Another motion calls for the amalgamation of the Garda Ombudsman, the Garda Inspectorate, and the Policing Authority and for the savings to be used to increase the intake of recruits.

In another motion, delegates from Roscommon/Longford are calling on the national executive to negotiate with Garda management to ensure that “sufficient members on regular units are trained and authorities to carry firearms in all parts of the State”.

Meanwhile, delegates from Cork City want management to ensure that those who are entitled to carry firearms — such as detectives and specialist units — undergo “mandatory tactical firearms training”.

Representatives from Galway want the commissioner to address the “increased level of administrative duties being delegated downwards to sergeant rank”.

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