THE decision to reduce drastically garda numbers should be of profound concern to the law-abiding citizens of this country. At a time of rising crime rates and gangland murders, increased terrorist activity and general social unrest, this policy is at best stupid and at worst irresponsible. For the fear of crime is causing widespread anxiety among the public in general and the rural community in particular, evidenced by the number of people phoning local radio stations to express fears over their safety and security.
In one garda area in the west, a recent meeting of the joint-policing council was informed that house burglaries had doubled in a previous nine-month period.
A similar picture seems to be emerging countrywide. Reducing garda numbers and closing down recruitment is false economy and the consequences of this will have long-term adverse effects for this State.
Ireland is the only country in Europe not currently recruiting police. In fact, there is no state or country in the world that I am aware of that has closed down police recruitment and training.
In a number of countries where the IMF were called in, police numbers were increased in anticipation of an upsurge in social disorder and crime.
So what is different in Ireland?
Even if this foolish policy was reversed today it will take years to get extra gardai on the street.
A recruitment drive has to be put in place. Aptitude tests, interviews and medicals will be required.
Instructional staff will need to be recruited and trained.
The garda training programme has a duration of two years, so it will be three to four years before the trained officers will be on the street.
Much is made of the fact that the ratio of police to population in Ireland compares favourably with similar EU countries. This is misleading spin.
The current ratio in Ireland per 100,000 population is one garda per 319 persons.
Moreover, the garda numbers include the Security Services, Immigration and Traffic Units.
In most countries police strengths do not include security and traffic functions.
But do we know what is the optimum number of gardai required to adequately and effectively police this country?
I am not aware of any research on this issue. Some years ago it was thought that 16,000 was the optimum number, now it seems 13,000 will do. Why the turnaround when research has shown that there is a strong link between recessions and rising crime rates? There's an even stronger link between decreasing police numbers and an upsurge in crime, particularly property crime.
Given the resources, manpower, leadership and training, the men and women of An Garda Siochana are among the best in Europe and this is evidenced by their standing while working overseas. For an organisation that has undergone cuts to pay and pensions, the removal of promotion opportunities, and lack of resources, they perform to a remarkably high standard in dangerous and stressful situations day and night, 365 days a year.
They are taken for granted as someone the citizen in trouble can turn to in an emergency but they can only do so much. The thin, blue line is thin and getting thinner.
Michael Carty is a former Garda Chief Superintendent and ex-Commander of the Emergency Response Unit