Gardaí are “at breaking point” due to falling numbers and morale, according to the representative body for rank-and-file members.
he Garda Representative Association (GRA) has warned that the force faces a recruitment and retention crisis on an “alarming and unprecedented scale”.
A message to GRA members from general secretary Philip McAnenly said the official target is for over 15,000 gardaí.
“Yet we have just over 14,100, so we are actually down almost 350 gardaí since 2020,” he said.
In a dispatch to members, he said Budget Day hiring targets have been missed and the “real issue” is a recent spate of resignations, which he said were up 170pc in five years.
Mr McAnenly said Budget 2022 promised 800 extra gardaí, but delivered under 300. He said Budget 2023 promised an extra 1,000 this year, “yet we will be lucky to recruit 800”.
Mr McAnenly’s message was sent as Commissioner Drew Harris faces a deepening row with the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) over a proposed roster plan. General secretary Antoinette Cunningham said the AGSI would consider all forms of industrial action and yesterday didn’t rule out a “blue flu”.
She was speaking after delivering a letter to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, seeking talks at an internal tribunal following a protest march to Garda headquarters in Phoenix Park.
Although a Garda spokesperson said those taking part were on a day off, Ms Cunningham indicated action could ramp up if members decide next month.
GRA president Brendan O’Connor told the Irish Independent resignations are at an all-time high, and claimed the morale of frontline gardaí is “on the floor” due to issues including “dangerous working conditions, deteriorating pay, conditions and pension entitlements, as well as the work uncertainty caused by the ongoing row on rosters”.
He added: “The inconvenient truth is that the number of recruits barely covers the number of gardaí we are losing annually through resignations and retirements and that can be seen with less visibility on the streets. We, as an association, are at breaking point.”
A garda spokesperson said the force was growing until the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said numbers resigning last year – 109 – equal approximately 0.8pc of the 14,100 gardaí. When combined with retirements, it equates to 3pc of gardaí, which is much lower than 10pc in the UK police.
There are around 1,000 more gardaí now than six years ago, with plans for 1,000 more to be hired by year end, he added.
“While people leave organisations for a variety of reasons, any resignation is of concern to the organisation,” he said.
He added exit interviews will be introduced shortly to examine why gardaí are resigning.
Commissioner Harris said in a statement: “I am looking forward to welcoming more garda recruits to the organisation throughout 2023 and I am confident that we will soon get back to a situation where garda numbers are growing.”
He added: “I not only want to get to the current target of 15,000 gardaí, but given population growth, demographic change and the rapidly changing nature of crime, I believe there is a strong case for there to be more than 15,000 gardaí.”
On the subject of “disgraceful” attacks on force members, he said he would continue to provide gardaí with “equipment they need to do their jobs safely and effectively”.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said the Government and Minister Simon Harris is committed to ensuring the force has the resources it needs, reflected in an allocation of more than €2bn in last year’s Budget to support recruitment targets.