It’s the number one issue. The garda strength has been cut from 14,500 in 2010 to 13,000 by the close of 2013.
Former garda commissioner Martin Callinan said 13,000 was the minimum floor below which he could not guarantee a proper policing service.
The numbers continued to fall, to 12,800 at the end of 2014 and to 12,700 by March 2015.
A new recruitment campaign — the first since 2009 — was ushered in by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last year.
In total, 550 recruits were taken in during 2014 and 2015, some 300 of which were attested in three batches this year.
“The situation has got worse as the year has gone on,” said Tim Galvin, president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
While he welcomed the recruits, he said they “will not go anywhere near” replacing those leaving the organisation, either through retirements, career breaks or maternity leave.
“There is a chronic shortage of people available to frontline policing. All we can provide at the moment is an emergency service.”
Mr Galvin said patrols in many districts were simply not being done as gardaí were “going from one call to the next”.
He said: “Some districts, for example in the likes of Kildare, Louth and Meath, are locking stations at times during the day and night as garda cars do calls.”
Ms Fitzgerald has said that there is a commitment to recruit a further 250 next year and has indicated that may be increased to 500.
The Association of Garda Superintendents said that the force needs to recruit between 600 and 700 to replace depleted ranks at garda level.
Mr Galvin agreed with that assessment and said an estimated 234 gardaí were expected to be promoted to sergeant rank, which he said was good for the supervisor rank given the serious shortages, but bad for the garda rank.
He said, in addition, 200 gardaí were on incentivised career break and 20 were seconded to the Department of Social Welfare.
“When you add all that, you won’t have much from the 550 recruits, bearing in mind that is not factoring in retirements and maternity leave,” said Mr Galvin.
An estimated 300 retire every year and almost 1,500 gardaí are eligible to retire.
The Garda Representative Association, which represents as many as 10,400 frontline members, said the cuts have stripped the gardaí of resources.
“The loss of 2,500 gardaí has depleted the country of 5.3m policing hours each year,” said a spokesman.
“At the current recruitment level it will take 50 years to return just to 2011 staffing levels.”
The Garda Inspectorate has strongly criticised the state of the Garda’s technology — covering everything from the deployment of garda resources to the execution of warrants.
Chief Inspector Bob Olson said the 1990s Garda Pulse computer system should be retired and that the force needed a new platform.
In its 2014 Crime Investigation report, the inspectorate said many of its 200 recommendations were dependant on gardaí being provided with modern technology.
Previous estimates indicated that in the region of €40m was required.
At the launch of the proposed 2016-2021 capital plan, Ms Fitzgerald promised an additional €205 would go towards Garda technology.
Mr Galvin said the money would be great “if it happens” and said gardaí needed mobile terminals and access to equipment in garda stations.
Ms Fitzgerald has pledged €46m to the area between 2016-2021. She said the Government has spent €29m on the garda transport since 2012 and 370 new vehicles have come on stream this year.
Mr Galvin said the situation regarding the state of the fleet had improved, but said the “right types” of vehicles need to be bought. He said local gardaí were often in cars unable to deal with the high-powered vehicles used by burglary gangs.
Despite its crucial role, the Forensic Science Laboratory has been the Cinderella of the criminal justice agencies for decades.
Director Sheila Willis told an Oireachtas committee this year the service was “in crisis”, both in terms of its staffing levels and facilities.
She said she would need extra staff to run the national DNA database — which was signed into law in June 2015, but has yet to come into being. In the capital plan, Ms Fitzgerald pledged unspecified funding to a new FSL building.
Gardaí at a number of stations have threatened to walk out in protest at the conditions both they work in and members of the public, including victims, have to experience.
Members at two stations in Cork, Macroom and Glanmire, recently described their conditions as “deplorable”.
Ms Fitzgerald said €18m was being made available to refurbish stations.