A significant decline in garda numbers over the last two years was “alarming” and meant fewer gardaí were responding to emergency calls and patrolling, while stations were now “bursting” with civilian staff, the Garda’s largest staff association has said.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) added a “worrying” pattern had begun to emerge in Irish policing, with more Garda members retiring from the force many years before they reached their compulsory retirement age.
GRA vice president Brendan O’Connor said Garda members who were resigning or retiring early must be spoken to in a bid to fully understand and bring an end to the “haemorrhage of experienced members” from the force.
The GRA, which represents about 12,000 rank-and-file gardaí in a force of just more than 14,000 members, believed early retirements had “serious implications” for communities across the country.
“Our members are telling us of shortages across the organisation but particularly on regular frontline units who provide the immediate response to calls from the public. Less gardaí means a reduction in the service that can be provided,” Mr O’Connor said.
He was responding to news that Garda numbers were now down to 14,263, almost 500 off from their peak of 14,750 when the pandemic began in March 2020. At the same time, the recruitment of Garda civilian staff had continued, with numbers increasing by just more than 100 to a record high of 3,396 at present.
The reduction in Garda numbers since the pandemic began has been compounded during the Omicron wave.
“The increase in Garda [civilian] staff numbers reflects the endless and ever-increasing duplicative bureaucracy that is labour intensive and devours resources at the expense of operational policing,” Mr O’Connor said. “Garda stations are bursting at the seams with administrative staff while the numbers of frontline gardaí available to patrol and answer calls is in decline.”
The number of sworn officers has declined because lockdown meant the closure of the Garda College, in Templemore, Co Tipperary, bringing recruitment to a near halt. At the same time, Garda civilian staff recruitment has continued as those civilian workers do not attend the college and many could start new jobs in the force while working from home.
Both the Department of Justice and Garda Headquarters said while the recruitment of sworn members had been impacted by the pandemic, some 800 personnel and 400 civilian staff were due to be recruited next year.
Garda Headquarters has responded to staffing pressure by recently directing only 10 per cent of personnel from stations and specialist units across the country can be on annual leave at any one time. Usually the permitted “extraction rate” is 25 per cent.
However, senior sources said cutting the extraction rate to shore up numbers was a short-term measure that could not be sustained. They were surprised extensions of service were not offered to hundreds of members forced to retire on age grounds this year, which would have bolstered Garda numbers in the short term.