Gardai: Thinner blue line on horizon as 1,500 gardai to be cut from force
The strength of the garda is to be slashed by 1,500 over the next four years.
Under the Government's four-year economic plan, the force is be cut from 14,500 personnel to 13,000 -- with two-thirds of the reduction coming next year.
The target could be easily achieved if every eligible garda, those aged 50 who have 30 years' service, leave the force. That cohort is expected to reach around 1,300 in 2011.
But it is unlikely a large chunk of the group will retire early unless they are offered some incentive -- and that is a non-runner under the plan.
Last year, fears over changes to gratuities led to a massive 776 personnel leaving the force.
This year, around 400 have indicated they want to go -- with up to 40 signalling their intentions yesterday. But previous experience shows that that a significant percentage of those might change their minds after they have studied the contents of the Budget.
At the moment, the force has a vacancy in the higher ranks for one assistant commissioner, two chiefs and three superintendents while a further chief and three superintendents have indicated they intend to leave.
A flood of early retirements will create additional problems for garda management because of the likely geographical spread of the personnel with the national units and rural areas likely to be hit the hardest.
Natural wastage will not account for the 1,500 cut, but nobody can be forced to leave unless the Government brings in compulsory redundancy, which is another non-runner.
The plan is aimed at making overall savings of €370m in the Department of Justice budget, which pays for the garda, and the prison and courts services.
It is hoped to achieve cuts of €230m through efficiencies in all of the Justice agencies and across the network of courts as well as payroll savings.
Further savings of €140m are being sought from cost-cutting measures including reductions in overtime, allowances and travel costs as well as curbs in transport spending.
Garda management has already begun talks based on the Croke Park agreement to introduce new rostering arrangements, which should maximise the number of officers on duty at peak hours.
One source said last night : "It is ridiculous having similar numbers of gardai on duty on Monday and Friday nights when the level required is obviously much bigger on a weekend night. Issues like that will be taken into account in what will be a very fundamental review of manning levels."
Representatives from the garda staff associations are due to join the talks next week to agree a roster, which is intended to be more efficient while also reducing the unsocial hours worked by gardai.
A spin-off from a modernised roster could also help achieve the planned savings in garda overtime.
It is also planned to make maximum use of civilianisation to put more gardai onto the street to deter and detect crime -- though this is a long-held aspiration that has become a cliche.
The plan also suggests another look at garda training of recruits and serving members to meet the "diverse needs of a modern police service".