The first batch of recruits to a heavily depleted traffic corps have been taken on as part of a five-year plan to bring its strength back to pre-austerity levels.

The 87 new members join a revamped traffic corps, now known as Roads Policing, to reflect the wider brief in combating crime as well as traffic offences.

A further allotment of 63 members will follow in October, bringing the strength of the unit to more than 700 by the end of the year.

The strength of the unit collapsed during the recession and the moratorium on recruitment with numbers axed from 1,093 in 2008 to 643 at the close of 2017 — a cut of 40%.

Yesterday, gardaí announced that 87 members (80 gardaí and seven sergeants) had completed their induction training and had been appointed to Roads Policing units across the country.

Of the 87, 16 have been sent to the Southern Region (including six to Cork West), 13 to the South Eastern Region, 14 to the Eastern Region, 16 to the Dublin Metropolitan Region, 15 to the Western Region and 13 to the Northern Region.

The induction training covered topics such as intoxicated driving, commercial vehicles, the Fixed Charge Processing system, ethics in road policing, tachographs, and dealing with victims of road collisions and their families.

A further 63 gardaí have been successful in a recent competition and will be appointed this October, bringing the total strength to over 700, gardaí say.

Additional appointments over the next three years are expected to bring numbers to 1,031 by 2021.

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey addressed the new members and urged them to be “utterly professional” in their work, to be “balanced” in their actions and both “reasonable and proportionate” in executing their duties.

He said: “Last year was the safest year recorded on Irish roads and the challenge is to continue the hard work to ensure that the downward trend in road deaths and serious injuries continue.”

He said that Roads Policing would work closely with crime units to target known criminals and to disrupt their activities through strict enforcement of road traffic legislation.

Mr Twomey said the Roads Policing units were recently given new vehicles.

The announcement comes as gardaí, the Road Safety Authority, and Transport Minister Shane Ross launch the May Bank Holiday road safety appeal today.

There will be a particular appeal to motorists to leave a safe distance when overtaking cyclists.

To date in 2018, six cyclists have been killed on Irish roads, compared to four in the same period last year.

There was a 50% increase in cyclists’ deaths in 2017, compared to 2016.

Meanwhile, gardaí are investigating a hit and run near Coolmine train station, west Dublin, which left a 19-year-old in critical condition and a 54-year-old man injured. A third pedestrian sustained minor injuries.

The car mounted a footpath and hit the pedestrians. The driver failed to stop, but was arrested in a follow-up operation. It is understood samples were taken from the man to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol.

Gardaí believe the driver had been on a school run and had just dropped his daughter off before the collision.

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