GARDAI are going unsupervised because of a lack of sergeants on the beat, according to a damning report.
Amid growing pressure to boost frontline numbers, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he is in discussions with the Department of Finance about relaxing the moratorium on the appointment of gardai to sergeant and inspector level.
A report by the Garda Siochana Inspectorate found that many sergeants are tied to their desks performing "cumbersome" administrative duties and this means they have less time to supervise gardai in the field.
It said many of these responsibilities could be handed over to officers of garda rank or to civilian staff, thereby freeing up sergeants.
The eighth report from the Inspectorate, which was presented to Mr Shatter in April 2012 but was only published yesterday, found that, on the face of it, the number of sergeants at 2,151 appears to be adequate as it equates to one sergeant for every six gardai.
However, the Inspectorate found that in reality, this ratio is often exceeded on the ground, something that was a "significant concern".
It found gaps in sergeant coverage in both urban and rural areas and noted these gaps occurred most often in the evening and during the night.
In one major rural town, a garda unit reported that it had had no sergeant for over six months while one young member of the force said he had never worked with a sergeant since leaving the garda college almost two years earlier.
Some sergeants reported that, on average, they patrol with their units in the field only 10pc of the time, most often on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Inspectorate recommended that stations that operate 24 hours a day should have a sergeant outdoors in the field supervising patrolling gardai.
It also called for an overhaul in the system of court attendance by gardai.
Welcoming the report, Mr Shatter said he is in discussions with Public Expenditure and Reform Minister, Brendan Howlin, about a derogation on the moratorium on the appointment of sergeants and inspectors.
He said it was decided to postpone publication of the reportpending the appointment of the new Garda Inspectorate team and to give Garda Commissioner proper opportunity to give detailed consideration to the recommendations.
Mr Shatter said work has already begun on some of the issues raised in the report.