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Many fear cuts in gardai willlead to more crime

ALMOST three-in-four voters fear that the planned reduction in the number of gardai will result in an increase in crime.

Public fears over the planned reduction in garda strength are underlined by the findings of the Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll.

The findings reveal 73pc are concerned that reduced garda numbers will lead to an increase in crime.

Concern is highest among people aged 65 and over (83pc), those living in Connaught/Ulster (78pc) and urban areas outside Dublin (78pc).

However, almost a quarter of those interviewed (22pc) said they were not concerned, with the number rising to 36pc among the 25-34 age group and 35pc among 18- to 24-year-olds.

A further 4pc responded "it depends" when they were asked about the likely impact of garda cutbacks on crime.

One per cent said they did not know.

The strength of An Garda Siochana stands at 14,348, with a further 698 part-timers in the Garda Reserve, down from 14,500 at the beginning of the year.

Under the four-year national-recovery plan, the numbers must be slashed from 14,500 to 13,500 by the end of the year, with a further 500 personnel phased out over the remaining three years.

Reaching the target figure for 2011 will bring down the strength to the level that existed in the autumn of 2007, while the 2014 figure of 13,000 will equate to the garda strength at the end of 2006.

All of the main politicial parties accept that it will not be possible to begin a new recruitment campaign immediately because of the financial restrictions.

However, Labour's justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said his party's objective in government would be to keep the numbers as close as possible to 14,500.

Labour would also require the gardai to give greater priority to community policing. This would see more of them on patrol in crime blackspots.

Fine Gael claimed it would ensure that administrative duties were carried out by civilians, while gardai concentrated on crime prevention and detection.

It also plans to transfer passport-checking duties at airports from gardai to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and to deploy more gardai in community policing.

Meanwhle, the garda authorities must reduce the existing strength by another 845 personnel in order to reach the December target.

Just 25 gardai are due to retire on age grounds this year, so the remaining 820 must be made up of voluntary redundancies.

About 9pc of the force will be eligible to leave early, having reached 50 years of age and completed 30 years' service. Two-thirds of these must agree to leave if the 13,500 target figure is to be reached.

Irish Independent