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'Unacceptably slow' progress on age barrier for new gardai

Over-35s 'could bring big benefits to the force'

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Progress on plans to review the upper age limit of 35 for new garda recruits has been criticised as "unacceptably slow".

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has confirmed he expects the age for entry to be considered as part of a wider overhaul of recruitment aimed at ensuring greater diversity in the gardai.

But he did not offer a time-line for this to be done when asked about the issue by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy.

She has said the 35 age limit is "discriminatory", "arbitrary" and "ridiculously low".

And she questioned why the review had not been carried out 18 months after the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland recommended more diversity in the garda intake.

She said: "It's unacceptably slow" and added it was a "constant frustration" that reports were carried out and then there was a delay in implementing their findings.

Ms Murphy said people over 35 could bring "significant practical experience" to the gardai.

She said people who had worked as accountants or information-technology professionals could bring skill sets required by the force.

The Social Democrats co-leader also said there were people who had worked in law enforcement in other countries who were interested in joining but could not because they were over the age limit. She also argued: "There's very few professions with an upper age limit", other than perhaps professional footballers.

She said many people over the age of 35 would be "perfectly capable of delivering a very good asset to the guards".

Ms Murphy tabled her Dail question to Mr Flanagan earlier this month, asking if there was any plan to mirror the age limit for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which stands at 57.

Mr Flanagan did not address that aspect of the question directly.

He said the Government had endorsed the Commission on the Future of Policing's report in December 2018 and that this was being implemented as part of a four-year plan entitled A Policing Service for the Future.

Mr Flanagan said among issues highlighted in the commission's report was that the gardai should reflect the diversity of Irish society and should "therefore develop recruitment strategies to achieve a more diverse intake".

He added: "I expect the question of the appropriate age for recruitment will be considered as part of that broader review of entry to An Garda Siochana."

Last night the Department of Justice defended progress on implementing the commission's recommendations.

But on the question of the review of the upper age limit, a spokesperson said: "It is not possible to say at this time when this review will be completed.

"However all actions are being progressed as quickly as possible, in line with the plan."

The department insisted significant progress was made in 2019 on a series of other aspects of the implementation plan for the commission's report.

This included the start of the roll-out of a new operating model for the gardai designed to bring about streamlined administration and a "more responsive localised policing service to communities."

In other actions, the department also said legislation was being progressed to underpin the use of recording devices, including body-cams.

The last time the upper age limit for gardai was raised was in 2004, when it was increased from 28 to 35.

The change on that occasion led to a surge in applications to join the force, with almost 11,000 applications for 2,000 posts.

Sunday Independent