SENIOR garda officers are adamant that they face a financial crisis this year unless almost 1,500 gardai are removed from the payroll.
They are pressing ahead with talks to find alternative ways to encourage gardai to leave the force – at least temporarily – despite claims by Justice Minister Alan Shatter that there is no possibility of gardai not being properly paid.
The minister was commenting on the disclosure in the Irish Independent yesterday that senior garda management had warned him they would not be able to provide a full policing service if he pressed ahead with plans to slash the strength of the force by the end of the year.
After studying the payroll budget set out in the 2013 estimates, garda financial officers have advised Commissioner Martin Callinan that there is only enough money to pay a force of around 12,000 members.
Garda management had been working on the basis that a bottom-line figure of 13,000 had been agreed under the national recovery plan and that this would be met by December through normal retirements.
But they became aware of what Mr Shatter described as "greater efficiencies" when they examined their financial allocation last month and outlined their concerns in a letter to him.
Mr Shatter has now dismissed their fears, saying: "There is no possibility of us losing 1,000 or 1,500 guards. There's no possibility of gardai not being properly paid."
However, senior gardai continue to engage in discussions with officials from the departments of Justice, Public Expenditure and Social Protection to discuss a range of proposals, including a three-year career break with a €30,000 taxable lump sum offered to those who accept, and the secondment of scores of personnel to agencies such as the Revenue Commissioners and Social Protection to help them tackle fraud.
If these were successful, they would significantly reduce the garda payroll but would dramatically reduce the numbers available for policing work.
Fianna Fail's former defence and junior justice minister, Willie O'Dea warned last night that the cuts would undo all of the garda achievements of recent years in curbing gangland violence in cities such as Limerick and thwarting the efforts of dissident republicans bent on murder.
He said the cuts were being foisted upon the gardai in an underhand and dishonest way and were an open invitation from Mr Shatter to potential gangland kingpins to take over where their predecessors had "left off".
The general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, John Redmond, told the minister that losing 11pc of the workforce would be a backward step.
He said the disappearance of 'yellow jackets' on the ground would bring public confidence to an all-time low and that the cost to the Exchequer of increased serious crime would be more than the anticipated savings of €35m.
John Parker, president of the rank and file Garda Representative Association, called for the setting up of an independent police authority to ensure that politicians could not dictate arbitrary reductions in policing resources.
In response to criticisms of the failure to launch a recruitment campaign, since it takes two years to complete the programme, Mr Shatter said recruits could be taken on from next year and sent into a fast-tracked training programme lasting one year.