Garda numbers‘close to critical level’

Interim garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has issued a second warning about garda numbers — saying they were now "very close" to a critical level.

And she told an Oireachtas committee that a “rush to violence” among people, was driving the recent rise in homicides. Her comments on garda numbers follows a similar warning by her predecessor Martin Callinan, also made to an Oireachtas committee, in 2012.

Mr Callinan set a minimum floor of 13,000, but numbers reached 12,954 by the end of May and are thought to have dipped further since.

“We’re very close to the point below which we shouldn’t go,” Ms O’Sullivan told the Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

In her first appearance before the PAC, Ms O’Sullivan was asked by a number of deputies about the impact the cuts in garda numbers have had on the force — which has dropped from a peak of 14,500 in 2010.

Ms O’Sullivan, who is in the running for the job of Garda commissioner, answered the questions initially by saying changes to rosters had helped the efficiency of the organisation and she was able to “cluster resources”.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on public expenditure, Sean Fleming, said he couldn’t understand how a force which had lost over 1,000 members was still efficient.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors last month told the Irish Examiner that they estimated numbers could drop to 12,700, before the 100 new recruits begin at Templemore College.

The training was supposed to start later this month, but may now begin next month. PAC chairman John McGuinness said Ms O’Sullivan’s comments that she can fulfil her obligations with the staffing available would “come as a surprise” to some people.

In response to concerns raised by Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell about the lack of gardaí on the beat, Ms O’Sullivan said you can have all the cars and technology in the world but that you “can’t beat human interaction”.

She told the Limerick deputy she was “very conscious” the impact of the unavailability of Garda cars had on local areas, particularly in rural parts, but said €4m would be spent this year on buying cars, on top of €10m last year.

Asked by Fine Gael Waterford John Deasy about the reasons for the recent rise in homicides, the interim garda chief said it was attributable to “more propensity to violence”, including in familial situations.

“I think it’s more a rush to violence, not just deaths, but serious injuries, people are not thinking before they act,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

Asked about road safety, Superintendent Con O’Donohoe of the Garda National Traffic Bureau said 20% of the 190 deaths last year involved people who were not wearing seat belts.

The committee also heard the privately operated GoSafe mobile camera vans will cost €12m more than expected this year.

Quizzed about how Garda bosses got their figures so wrong, Ms O’Sullivan said the road safety cameras were so good at deterring motorists from speeding that the number of fines are a lot lower than forecast.


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