Thursday 13 December 2018

800 new gardaí and more cash for the force's oversight bodies

Law and Order

Gardaí passing out from training at the force’s training college in Templemore. Photo: INM
Gardaí passing out from training at the force’s training college in Templemore. Photo: INM
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Government has pledged to recruit 800 additional gardaí next year and 500 more civilians to free up officers from desk duties.

The move comes as An Garda Síochána emerged as the main beneficiary of additional funding for the justice sector in the Budget, with the Government prioritising increased recruitment, reform and additional resources for oversight bodies.

An extra €100m will be spent in the sector over the coming year, bringing its total allocation to €2.6bn.

The force's portion of that budget will be €1.65bn in 2018, up €67m on last year. The additional cash had been widely expected following previous commitments to increase the garda workforce to 21,000 by 2021.

Some €28.6m has been specifically earmarked for garda reform measures, in the wake of a series of controversies which have dogged the force.

The Policing Authority watchdog body will get an additional €600,000, bringing its budget to €3.3m.

The Garda Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against members of the force, will get a €300,000 boost, bringing its budget to €9.8m as it looks to beef up its protected disclosures unit. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said almost €100m would be earmarked for garda overtime, a jump of close to €30m on this year's allocation.

However, it is debatable whether this increase will be sufficient, given the strains the force is under at present as it struggles to keep a lid on gangland feuding. Spending on overtime this year is currently 50pc over budget.

Some €6m will be spent providing 240 new vehicles for the force.

Mr Flanagan said further funding was being allocated for work on the Schengen Information System, known as SIS II, which allows for the automated exchange of information between national border-control authorities, customs and police forces in different jurisdictions.

The European Commission criticised Ireland earlier this year for failing to adopt the IT system, which is seen as a key tool in tackling international terrorism and crime. A previous plan to join the system was shelved in 2009 due to the economic crisis.

Some €4m will also be spent on establishing a passenger-information unit to implement an EU directive. Mr Flanagan said the directive was "aimed at prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime".

Some €3m is being allocated for the establishment of a Decision Support Service as part of measures to replace the wards-of-court system.

It will operate under the aegis of the Mental Health Commission and support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties.

Disappointment was expressed by the Free Legal Advice Centres at a 3pc funding increase for the Legal Aid Board. The size of the increase, amounting to just €1.25m, means it is unlikely that the board will be able to abolish the practice of seeking contributions of at least €130 from clients towards their costs in civil cases.

There had been calls for the abolition of the fee in some cases after a victim of domestic violence had to represent herself in court because she could not afford the contribution.

The Department of Justice said the extra cash for the board was to be spent reducing waiting-list times, consolidating services and on pay increases.

Serious delays continue to exist in some Legal Aid Board law centres, with the longest waiting times for an initial consultation standing at 32 weeks in Athlone and 29 weeks in Blanchardstown in Dublin.

Irish Independent

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