Five senior gardaí selected for promotion but just one can take up the role
The Policing Authority has selected five garda chief superintendents to be promoted to the rank of assistant commissioner in the force.
But only one of the panel of five can be promoted at present because of an embargo imposed by the Department of Public Expenditure.
This is despite a series of vacancies existing at the top management ranks of the organisation.
Promotion has been sanctioned for the officer at the top of the list, Det Chief Supt Michael O'Sullivan.
His name was included on a list published last year by Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan but he failed to be promoted then because of the embargo.
The new assistant commissioner has 36 years policing experience in a range of operational roles here and overseas and has been recently in charge of the security and intelligence section at garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.
Also on the panel are Dave Sheahan, who is currently in charge of the Limerick division, Pat Leahy, who has played a key part in the garda investigation into the Kinahan-Hutch feud, Barry O'Brien, commander in Dublin North division, and Orla McPartlin, who controls the Dublin South.
The Policing Authority said those four would be appointed "if and when" positions in the rank were to be filled.
However, it is understood that Chief Supt Pat Leahy, who is second on the list, will be promoted next month following the retirement of Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan, who is in charge of policing in the Dublin region.
It is not clear when Public Expenditure will agree to further appointments.
Under an agreed employment control framework, only eight positions for assistant commissioner (AC) are allowed, with one of those vacant up to this week.
However, at one stage the force had eleven ACs and since then officers have had to take responsibility for more than one post with some doubling or trebling up.
The AC currently in charge of the controversy-hit traffic section is also responsible for the northern region including cross-Border duties, and executive support at Garda headquarters.
Since the selection process got under way for this promotion, the number of vacancies at the rank has increased.
One AC retired on age grounds last month and is now taking up a prestigious international role, based in Lisbon, while two others are due to leave for similar reasons next month and in June.
The limits agreed for the number of ACs were set in 2010 when it was intended that the force's strength would drop to 11,500.
But now the size of the force is being built up to 15,000.
Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has agreed that the ceiling for staffing levels must be reviewed as numbers rise again.
A total of 31 chief superintendents applied to take part in the selection competition, which was the first to be held by the Policing Authority since it was given responsibility for senior promotions at the start of the year.
Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily said the appointment marked a historic moment in the evolution of policing in Ireland and it was the first time that a senior ranking garda had been appointed by an independent body comprised of civilians.
"The cultural significance of de-politicising senior garda appointments and the organisational impact of candidates having to send a promotion application to the authority rather than the garda commissioner or garda HQ should not be underestimated", Ms Feehily said.
The 31 candidates, of which four were female, were whittled down to 18 initially and those selected then had to undergo two interviews and a presentation.
The Policing Authority said a selection competition to appoint chief superintendents began on March 9 and a further competition for superintendents would be held in the coming months.