THE promotion system to appoint senior gardai to top management positions has been condemned as a "three-ball lotto system" which is cloaked in secrecy.
And the process to find a new deputy commissioner has been described as being "akin to patronage more appropriate to the 18th century" than to now.
The claims are contained in a hard-hitting editorial in the latest 'Garda Review', the official magazine of the Garda Representative Association (GRA).
The severe criticism comes as interviews are being held to determine who will fill the high-powered post left vacant since the retirement of Deputy Commissioner Nacie Rice in May.
Six assistant commissioners have put their names forward for consideration, and the successful candidate is expected to be announced in January after receiving cabinet approval.
But the editorial claims that the current system has the potential to further damage the reputation of the force.
The editorial claims: "The leadership (of the force) is being decided by a three-ball lotto system -- where a hidden hand selects the winner."
It adds: "This is unfair at best, and at worst appears degraded. The system needs urgent reform." The magazine, which represents the views of rank-and-file gardai, claims the process is tainted by the "suspicion of nepotism -- namely political interference".
It says of the system: "The method by which the successful applicant is chosen is not revealed; the interview process furnishes the Department of Justice with three names suitable for the position; and then the appointment is made -- but by whom and what criteria are never publicly divulged."
The GRA argues that an apparent cutlure of "political friendships and alliances" is sending the message down the ranks that in order to get on, an individual must have "pull".
The editorial calls for a more transparent promotion system for top positions in the hands of an independent authority. "It is no longer valid to argue that politicians can continue to wield such influence within the structure of a national police force," according to the editorial.
Internally the garda promotion process is referred to by all ranks as "rutting season" as officers jostle for position in a bid to get the next jump in rank.
A senior garda source told the Irish Independent: "In the build-up to promotion potential candidates are watching their backs and slow to make decisions in case it might have a negative impact on their chances; it's not called rutting season for nothing."
The source said that even before the interview process is complete the name of the new deputy is already circulating throughout the force. "There will be no surprise when it comes out," the source claimed.
A Garda spokeswoman last night insisted that promotions are governed by the Public Appointments Service at www.publicjobs.ie.
She added: "In relation to the interviews for the job of Deputy Commissioner of An Garda Siochana again this process is governed by the Public Appointments Service and is chaired by an independent chairperson. The Interview Board comprises of three non-garda persons and the Garda Commissioner."