Garda hopes to recruit 450 student gardaí this year means the long-standing government target of 15,000 garda members by the close of 2021 will not be met.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said his “ambition” of 450 recruits during 2021 will bring the strength of the force to around 14,700.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said that Budget 2021 provided resources for the recruitment of “up to 620” gardaí this year, subject to Covid-19 restrictions, which would enable Garda HQ to reach the 15,000 target.
The biggest garda staff association described the commissioner’s hope for 450 students as “aspirational”, citing the ongoing pandemic restrictions.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) also called on the commissioner to first deal with the “calamity” facing students and probationers currently working on the frontline before making announcements on more recruitment.
Many probationers have been attested (given full garda powers) early, before completing their training, and student gardaí have also been put on the frontline much earlier than usual in order to help staff various and increasing, Covid-19 policing responsibilities.
The GRA has been unhappy at the salary students are working on - €182 per week plus daily subsistence of €21.
The association is also fighting proposals to extend the probation period for many probationers, which, it says, would prevent them from earning higher pay scales on completing their training.
Speaking at the Policing Authority on Thursday, the commissioner said there had been no training at Templemore Garda College since the first quarter of 2020 and that student training had moved online.
He said there will be a backlog of training and could take up to 18 months to clear the training lag.
He said while there were no plans for widescale reopening, they will do so on March 22 for student guards.
He said his “ambition” was the recruitment of 450 gardaí this year, which would mean a net increase, factoring in retirements, of around 150.
He said this would bring overall strength to around 14,700 by year's end, including the 450 students.
The targets set over the various governments of 15,000 gardaí by the end of 2021 were considered to initially refer to attested gardai, though ministers in recent times have included those in training.
The commissioner also said 400 civilians (known as garda staff) will be recruited. Ms McEntee said the budget resourced the recruitment of 500 extra garda staff.
Reacting, Frank Thornton, president of the GRA said: “The target set by the commissioner is aspirational given the current circumstances were are in and given the knowledge of the calamity for many probationers and student gardaí given the way they have been treated.”
He called on the commissioner to “sort out the mess” these groups were in before announcing further recruitment targets.
He strongly criticised the treatment of student gardaí who he said were working on the frontline but only in receipt of €182 per week and a daily subsistence allowance of around €21.
He said there were also proposals to extend the probation period for those who've almost completed their probation, save for final training, for another six months, which, he said, would deprive them of significant pay increases.