The situation has been going on for nearly two months and shows no immediate sign of being rectified, due to the ongoing ban on appointments within the public service.
It comes at a time of a surge in organised crime activities – including murders, gang feuds and bank robberies – and an increase in paramilitary activity.
Since early December, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) and the Special Detective Unit (SDU) have been without a chief superintendent. This follows the retirement of Noel White from the NBCI and Phil Kelly from the SDU.
Their retirements were just two of 12 retirements at chief superintendent level in 2009, the highest ever at that rank out of 51 chief superintendent positions.
The NBCI is the key national unit tasked with targeting organised crime and houses the Organised Crime Unit (OCU), which spearheads operations against the country’s gangs.
The SDU is the dedicated unit with responsibility for operations against terrorist groups and paramilitary-related crime.
The unit’s elite armed wing, the Emergency Response Unit, regularly assists in anti-gang operations and armed patrols and checkpoints.
Not only are the units without a dedicated leader, they are being supervised by the heads of other key national units and agencies.
Chief Supt Tony Quilter, the head of the Garda National Drugs Unit, has been assigned the “dual task” of heading his own unit and the NBCI.
Chief Supt Kevin Donohoe, head of the Security and Intelligence section of the Crime and Security division in Garda Headquarters, has been assigned the “dual task” of running both it and the SDU.
“It’s an absolute joke. Everyone is up in arms, rightly so, at the appalling number of murders and there’s clearly a growing concern on the paramilitary side, but we have our top units without a chief,” said one senior Garda source.
A second source said it was crucial for investigators in the units to have a chief superintendent: “It’s very important to have an experienced chief to keep everything on track and to supervise investigations.”
Garda sources indicate there are 11 chief superintendent positions vacant at the moment and that there are only three officers on the chief superintendent list for promotion.
This means a recruitment round for another nine officers from superintendent rank, which the Government has not approved.