More than one in six Garda recruits are failing a general fitness test they must undergo to become members of the force, according to the Department of Justice. Jim O’Callaghan TD, Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on justice, said he was now concerned the test was too stringent and was undermining efforts in increase the size of the Garda force after the pandemic forced recruitment to a halt.
He called for a review of the tests, especially the time limits involved, as overly stringent physical testing was now “blocking” efforts to increase the size of the Garda to 15,000 members. The force’s capacity to grow was being undermined by tests that were out of step with international policing norms at a time when an “unprecedented” amount of money was being spent on policing in the Republic, he added.
In reply to queries from Mr O’Callaghan, Minister for Justice Simon Harris TD (FG) said of 315 recruits who underwent the physical competency test last year, to early December, some 55 had failed.
The tests are comprised of a shuttle run, or bleep test, during which recruits must run between points within time limits. They must also perform push-ups, complete an obstacle course and then perform exercises on a push-pull machine, within time limits.
Helen McEntee TD (FG), who is currently on maternity leave and has been temporarily replaced by Mr Harris as justice minister, told the Dáil last October the number of recruits failing the fitness tests was “actually rising”, before adding the test was imperative for people who wanted to become gardaí.
“It is important that members of the Garda have a certain level of fitness. There are challenges arising and we need to ensure we are on top of them,” she said at the time.
Failure rates have been as high as 25 to 30 per cent at times in recent years, meaning last year’s figures appear to be an improvement. However, a more comprehensive breakdown of last year’s failure and pass rates would be required for a full assessment.
Mr O’Callaghan said the Garda was now in receipt of €2.14 billion in funding this year, yet he believed the standards set for the fitness tests, specifically the times allowed for completion, were too demanding and resulted in recruits being excluded from the process.
Mr O’Callaghan pointed out the obstacle course must be completed three times in under 3:20. However, the PSNI’s “similar” assessment allowed 4:30 for the obstacle course and in Canada, where the test was “similar”, recruits were allowed 5:30 for the obstacle course as well as push and pull exercises.