Intoxicated suspects are being released from station custody because gardai do not have the powers to detain them until they are sober.
Now gardai want Justice Minister to change the law and provide greater protection for prisoners who could put their own safety at risk when they are allowed back onto the streets.
The annual conference of the Garda Representative Association heard in Killarney yesterday of a recent release from garda custody, which resulted in a tragedy because the 18-year-old suspect had nobody available to meet her when she had to be set free.
Cork city central executive member Michael Corcoran said there were provisions under the road traffic legislation to cover the detention of suspects for drink driving offences until they were sober.
But he pointed out that most of the intoxicated prisoners held in the stations were arrested for public order offences and the legislation did not allow the gardai to hold onto them either until they were sober or somebody had been organised to meet them after release.
He said gardai had a duty of care to prisoners and, where possible, they were released into the care of somebody, like a family member.
But because of the gap in the public order laws, they were sometimes set free onto the streets with nobody to guarantee their safety.
Apart from the legislation, Mr Corcoran said, there were also problems with the number of cells available to hold those prisoners.
In Cork city there were three stations with cells available but they were often full at night and there was not sufficient capacity to hold all of them for their own safety.
At the moment gardai could end up in trouble for holding onto prisoners without the necessary legislative back-up.
He told delegates that gardai needed additional cell capacity, allied to amendments to the public order laws.