THOUSANDS of gardai are eligible for an incentivised three-year career break worth €30,000, according to an internal circular sent earlier this month, it has been revealed.
The lucrative offer, if taken up by significant numbers, could lead to an unprecedented manpower crisis in the force.
Details of the career-break opportunity for serving gardai came as it emerged that only 600 applicants out of 25,000 are left in the running to be selected for the first training places for garda recruits in five years.
The internal circular on career breaks – sent on March 7 – offers an annual payment of €12,000 which will be paid quarterly over the period of the career break or a lump sum of 75 per cent of gross pay and allowances up to a maximum of €30,000.
The scheme, which is part of the terms of the Haddington Road Agreement and is designed to reduce the number of gardai on the streets, must begin by next February.
Senior officers have warned that the scheme is potentially "catastrophic" and have predicted that thousands of rank and file gardai who are experiencing financial difficulties are likely to take up the offer.
They predict that it will result in an unprecedented manpower crisis next year in the organisation, dragging the strength of the force way below the current number of 13,000.
There is concern that the predicted brain drain will negate the recruitment this year of 300 more gardai.
A total of 600 applicants remain in the battle for places in the garda training college in Templemore for the course that is due to begin in July.
The hopefuls have passed the initial stages of a series of tests in the first campaign to bring in new gardai since a government embargo on recruitment was imposed in 2009.
Government sanction for the size of the first intake of recruits to the training college has not yet been officially given by the Cabinet.
But it is expected that up to 300 new officers will be recruited on a phased basis.
Thousands of applicants were weeded out in the opening stages of the competition.