Figures supplied by Garda Headquarters show that 617 gardai were absent for three days or more as a result of injury on duty last year. The figure for 2011 was 671. The "vast majority", gardai say, involve assaults on frontline gardai.
The figures taken together reflect a trend of violent assaults on gardai which, members say, is unprecedented in the force's history. According to gardai, never in the past has so much violence been directed at them – and at their families – and so little been done about it.
An investigation into the assault of two garda detectives' wives in Co Mayo earlier this month has yet to lead to arrests. In one attack in Charlestown, a gang armed with knives and a hammer burst into the home of a detective and assaulted his wife when they found he was not at home. The attack happened at 11.15pm on Friday, March 1. The detective's wife was on her own as her husband was working. Their two young children were asleep upstairs.
The gang was looking for the detective and gardai believe the intention was to kill or seriously injure him. The masked men demanded to know where he was. They assaulted and rough-handled the woman before tying her to a child safety gate on the stairs and leaving.
The wife of another detective in Castlebar has been assaulted and robbed on two occasions since the start of December in circumstances similar to the incident in Charlestown.
Regina Sweeney, whose husband Declan is a detective in Castlebar, was beaten and also tied to the stairs in her home on March 6. Mrs Sweeney, who is a personal friend of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, runs a bridal boutique in Castlebar but gardai believe there was personal intent in the raids on her home and that it is linked to her husband's work.
She was previously assaulted and robbed in her home on December 1 and suffered a hairline crack of her cheekbone, bruised kidneys and a shoulder injury. On that occasion she managed to set off a panic alarm. She was struck by one of the masked attackers and thrown back against stairs before passing out. In the latest attack, she suffered bruising to her arms and neck and was detained overnight in hospital for observation.
Mrs Sweeney appeared on the Late Late Show last December, in a debate on rural crime, to speak about her previous ordeal. On both occasions, sums of money were stolen. However, gardai believe that the raiders specifically targeted her because of her husband's work. The last attack happened in the afternoon and gardai have asked for public assistance in identifying the raiders.
No positive identification of the gangs involved has emerged but among the suspects is a gang involved in daylight burglaries in the Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon area. A number of the gang members are on bail awaiting trial.
The assaults on the wives of gardai, coming a month after the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, have raised levels of concern not just about gardai's personal safety but also that of their families. The sinister incidents in Mayo are, gardai say, symptomatic of the increasing level of violence directed at frontline members of the force and the failure of the justice system to protect officers.
Two weeks ago gardai in a central Dublin division were put on alert because a very violent young man who has threatened to murder gardai was released from prison after serving only 11 months of a three-year sentence imposed
for a serious assault on two female gardai. The young man is associated with one of two gangs engaged in a blood feud in north inner Dublin in recent years, and has access to guns. Two weeks ago, an alert was posted in stations in the division informing gardai of his early release and warning officers to be cautious when approaching him. There was deep disquiet in the division at the man's early release.
However, officers say it is now accepted that an assault on gardai does not merit serious punishment by the courts.
A man who kicked a garda who was four months pregnant in the stomach was given a sentence of community service at Tallaght District Court. Stephen White, 31, from Tymonville Road in Tallaght, was arrested in September last year on suspicion of possessing drugs. He became violent and refused to be handcuffed. Garda Jennifer Brogan and Detective Garda Michael McGrath were placing him in the back of a squad car when White kicked Garda Brogan in the stomach. She gave evidence in the two-day trial that she feared for the safety of her unborn child.
The court heard that as the gardai were trying to arrest him, White shouted: "f**k off, you'll f***ing regret this" and "you'll feel my wrath". Garda McGrath said White struggled with him and refused to allow him to put on the handcuffs, and a member of the public came to help put them on.
Paul Cullen, the Dublin criminal shot dead by other drug dealers in a north Dublin pub on March 3, received an 18-month prison sentence for a serious assault on two gardai in Cabra in November 2007.
Paul Cullen and his cousin, Carl Cullen, also from Cabra, overpowered and took a baton from the female officer and used it to beat both gardai, inflicting serious injuries that required hospital treatment. Both men pleaded guilty to assault.
Paul Cullen took the baton from the female garda, hit her on the head and kicked her in the stomach. Carl Cullen, who carried out a serious assault on the male garda, was on bail at the time on a charge of assaulting another garda. He received a five-year sentence with other charges, including the previous assault, taken into consideration.
The court heard the attack only stopped when a detective arrived and drew his handgun on the two.
In another case before Blanchardstown District Court last week, Stephen O'Hara, 28, refused to accept a probation order and was jailed for eight months for assaulting two gardai. The court heard he struck one garda with a length of wood, breaking the officer's teeth, headbutted another garda and damaged their patrol car. O'Hara, of Finnstown, Lucan, refused to liaise with the probation services in what his solicitor described as a "kamikaze approach" to the case, and opted for imprisonment.
And last weekend, a Tallaght-based garda received 25 stitches when he was slashed on the face with a razor after responding to a call about violent behaviour at a house. The garda, who is in his 30s, will be permanently scarred. He was off work last week.
The garda and his colleagues were responding to a call about a disturbance at a house in Redwood Lane, Tallaght, when they were set upon by several people.
The gardai were attempting to subdue one man who was acting violently when one garda was slashed with a razor. Another garda was punched. Four men and two women were arrested and brought to Tallaght garda station. They were released without charge while a file is prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Senior gardai say the high level of violence against frontline gardai culminating in the murder of one of their members is having a serious demotivating effect across the operational section of the force.
Another element which they say is having an impact on morale, is the increasingly bureaucratic nature of their work. Senior gardai in rural areas say they are losing touch with their frontline gardai by being caught up in rounds of meetings with their regional commanders. Chief superintendents and superintendents are required to attend weekly meetings which take up entire days. More attention is being paid at senior level in the force to "looking good at meetings" than overseeing proper police work, sources say.
They say that the authority and morale of the force is being whittled away both from within and from outside as criminals no longer fear severe punishment for assaulting or threatening gardai.
Many gardai who are opting for early retirement began their service at a time when an assault on a garda was a rare event and treated with the utmost seriousness. It was a matter of high priority that the culprits were caught and brought before the courts. It was also fully expected that judges would mete out severe punishment.
And, unofficially, anyone who threatened or abused a garda could also expect to be targeted and receive unrelenting attention from other officers. As one put it: "If a lad assaulted a guard he would remember it. That was the reality. If the gouger thinks he can break into a guard's house and threaten his wife and get away with it, the game's up. The gouger can spot weakness and he will exploit it."