300 gardaí could be freed to take up duty on beat immediately
Some 300 gardaí currently receiving clerical allowances could be released from their stations immediately and allocated to policing duties on the streets if their posts were civilianised, according to the head of the Garda Inspectorate.
Mr Bob Olsen said he was very confident that many more gardaí would be freed from administrative duties if their posts were amalgamated in garda divisions.
In one case, the inspectorate had recommended that nine administrative units in two garda divisions could be amalgamated into one to release more officers for policing.
Mr Olsen made his comments in Westport, Co Mayo, where he spelled out the details of the inspectorate's latest report on policing to the annual conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.
He said the report looked at around 1,500 posts, which it was felt could be civilianised. The inspectorate is awaiting the response of the Garda authorities to its recommendations.
Mr Olsen said that report was given to the Gardaí in December but he was not surprised that he had not yet received a response.
He understood that the Gardaí had to follow a certain process before reaching a decision, he said, and that was part of a culture stretching back over several decades.
Asked about the mood at the conference, Mr Olsen said: "You would want to be naive not to notice that the gardaí were more militant and demoralised than previously."
He hoped that those industrial relations issues could be resolved and action was also needed to settle the problems with morale.
Mr Olsen called for a re-evaluation of the duties allocated to superintendents and inspectors in divisions to allow them focus more on key issues.
"Inspectors should not have to worry about who was taking annual leave and should be free to supervise gardaí on the streets," he said.
And he believed that superintendents should not be tied down prosecuting court cases for two or three days a week.
The inspectorate felt that the criminal prosecution system should be handed over to the DPP, he added.
Meanwhile, the new oversight body for the Garda is to question Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan about the emphasis currently being placed on visible policing.
The Policing Authority believes community confidence in the force is hugely enhanced by ensuring that gardaí are a visible presence on the streets.
Chairwoman of the authority, Josephine Feehily, said this was an issue which would be raised by board members at their first public session with the commissioner on Monday week.
Ms Feehily said the authority intended to tackle the closures of garda stations in the autumn. She told the AGSI conference that authority was only three months old and had not yet formed a view on the closures.
But she argued that there was a difference between improving policing resources and discussions about re-opening stations.
"It is not all about bricks and mortar... sometimes I think the discussion about bricks and mortar overshadows thinking about policing, visibility and community."