Gardai were yesterday sceptical over whether a government offer of a lump sum of around €16,000 after tax would induce many members to leave on three-year sabbaticals in an effort to reduce the size of the force by 1,000.
The offer is one of a number of ideas that have been under consideration over the past year – but it failed to impress gardai yesterday.
The other ideas include transferring to other parts of the civil service, but officers pointed out that there are unlikely to be many places in already over-staffed areas of the public sector.
They also expressed concern that the gardai most likely to consider the lump-sum offer might be young officers working in busy city stations who are working under stressful conditions and who may consider a career break, possibly to find work abroad.
The government proposals, revealed in yesterday's Irish Independent, fall well short of the feared taxation of the retirement lump sum of a year-and-a-half's salary. This had been mooted but was apparently rejected as it would have to be applied across the whole public sector.
Instead, it appears the Government has opted for a €30,000 taxable lump sum payment to any garda opting to take a sabbatical.
This, it is apparently hoped, would help achieve the reduction of 1,000 in force size, which is one of the demands under the EU bail-out conditions.
The 1,000 reduction would return garda numbers to the level the force was at before the then Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat government embarked on the rapid expansion of the force by the recruitment of 2,000 new gardai in 2004.
Under Justice Minister Michael McDowell there was rapid recruitment and the force rose in size to 14,500 – its highest strength in the history of the State. Yet there have been no indications that this has had any impact on reducing crime.
With no recruitment to take place in the next two years and none in the past two years, senior gardai are concerned about a fall in morale among the 2,000 who joined under the McDowell expansion who face difficulty in career advancement.
Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins accused Minister for Justice Alan Shatter of "single-handedly dismantling the gardai".
Mr Collins said: "It seems it is not enough for him to shut down an additional 100 garda stations this year and refuse to lift the ban on recruitment at a time of dwindling garda numbers, now the minister wants to cut an extra 1,000 personnel this year. This is a drain of ability and experience and if it goes ahead, it would bring garda numbers to the lowest level in a decade.
"People will find it shocking that this is the minister's response to increased rates of burglaries, thefts and retail crime in communities across the country, as well as fears of an escalation in gangland crime and dissident activity," added Mr Collins.