The Government has made an U-turn on its plan to recruit 800 new gardai in 2020.
ustice Minister Charlie Flanagan announced several times that 800 recruits would be taken into the Garda training college at Templemore in the coming year, as part of its programme to increase the strength of the force to 15,000 by 2021.
However, it has now emerged in the Budget statement that the number has been reduced to “up to 700” trainees.
This will the second year in a row that the planned recruitment figure has been downgraded.
This year’s figure of 800 was dropped to 600 after Garda Commissioner Drew Harris opted to use the savings on hiring more civilians to allow gardai to be released from behind desks into operational frontline duties.
According to Mr Harris, a total of 495 have been transferred from administrative to operational jobs up to the start of last month.
However, it is not yet clear how many members of the force will retire or resign from the job in 2020.
In previous years, the authorities have planned on the basis of around 300 to 350 leaving the force annually. Last month, it was stated that a “slight increase” in that figure was anticipated next month.
A Garda spokesman said the force was on target to meet the target strength of 15,000 by the end of 2021.
Issuing a cautious welcome to the budget, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors noted the reduction in the recruitment figure and also questioned whether the force was prepared to police the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Deputy general secretary, Antoinette Cunningham said the association was concerned about those issues as well as funding an ambitious operational policing model and servicing infrastructure, accommodation and transport needs.
“Considering the recent ban on overtime to curb spending, how will the government fund exceptional costs such as heads of state visits and Brexit.
“We understand the need for prudent accounting in a time of uncertainty but policing the country is a public interest matters that concerns every citizen”, Ms Cunningham added.
The Garda Representative Association said the government’s policing plan looked like it was being built on quicksand following the budget allocation of €81m for the force.
Association president Jim Mulligan said the €81m budget would have to be spread so thinly it was difficult to see how it could meet all of the plans that had been announced for policing reform.
“Gardai are, apparently, supposed to operate a pro-arrest approach to street violence, implement a new operating model with more specialist units, police the growing level of criminality on the Border and elsewhere, against a backdrop of an overtime ban”, Mr Mulligan.
He said €12m had to be set aside next year for a new uniform, commitments met under the public sector stability agreement and the €15m to €18m taken from this year’s budget to pay for the visits of US president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence.
“The arithmetic does not look good”, he added.
He said there was no mention of ring fencing money for renovating and replace many dilapidated stations around the country, including Clonmel, Newcastlewest and Sligo while Macroom was due to become a new divisional headquarters.
The budget is providing €265m to be used, partly, to fund the relocation of the Garda from Harcourt Street to Military Road in Dublin, continuing investment in Garda ICT systems, modernisation of Limerick prison and construction of a new forensic science laboratory.