Audience figures for RTE's smash hit drama 'Love/Hate' confirm the level of public interest in crime. The latest instalment of the gritty series attracted more than 630,000 viewers on Sunday night. But although it reflects much of what is happening in real-life gangland, we can take comfort from the fact that it is fiction and switch off the telly afterwards.
Yesterday, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan painted a stark picture of reality on the streets when he revealed that Ireland now hosts 25 organised crime gangs, with gang bosses now forging links with Russian mobsters and co-operating in the importation of drugs and illicit cigarettes. He side-stepped questions from the Oireachtas Justice Committee about his views on 'Love/ Hate' but gave a frank account of the challenges posed by the gangs and their capacity to use violence and intimidation to further their aims.
He acknowledged that the force's many successes in seizing drugs and arresting criminals were well publicised but stressed the importance of work that was carried out by his personnel behind the scenes. In this dark and shadowy world, garda units carry out surveillance and monitor the movements and contacts of key suspects in organised crime and dissident republicanism and, as Mr Callinan pointed out, many lives are saved as a result.
The commissioner has strong views on the need for smart policing and introducing new initiatives to meet the challenges posed by the criminals, and so far the senior command of the force have demonstrated their ability to cope with the demands imposed by cuts to resources. But there comes a point when any further reductions are counter-productive. And that point is about to be reached.
Very soon, the strength of the force will be down to 13,000 and Mr Callinan is very concerned that it should not drop further. Now is the time for Justice Minister Alan Shatter to prevent that happening. It takes two years to train up a new garda and numbers could reach a critical figure unless the recruitment embargo is lifted now.
The Government has been given its ounce of flesh by the gardai. Stations are being shut down, numbers are falling substantially and more efficient work rosters are being introduced. Mr Shatter should now play his part in ensuring that crime levels continue to drop.