Budget 2018: Extra 800 gardaí will bring force strength to 14,000

Donohue says extra funds to develop ‘modern police force’ and drive Garda reform

Eight hundred extra gardaí are to be recruited under the Budget 2018, bringing the force's strength to about 14,000.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan also announced that the budget allows for the recruitment of an extra 500 civilian staff, which will free up more gardaí for "front-line operational duties".

The increase in Garda numbers is part of a long-term drive to bring the strength of the force to 21,000 by 2021, comprising 15,000 gardaí, 2,000 reserves and 4,000 civilians.

Minster for Finance Paschal Donohue said the increase in funding is designed to develop a "modern police force" and to help drive Garda reform.

The rate of recruitment was criticised on Tuesday by the country’s largest Garda representative group as being far too slow.

John O'Keeffe, spokesman for the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which represents rank-and-file gardaí, said the State requires 17,000 gardaí members, an increase of almost 25 per cent on current figures.

"There is no longer a visible Garda presence in urban areas and even less in rural Ireland. Street and neighbourhood patrols – the heart of successful policing – have been slashed due to falling numbers," he said.

Confidence-and-supply deal

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan welcomed the increase in Garda numbers which he said was a result of the continued implementation of the confidence-and-supply agreement between his party and Fine Gael.

He said he would have liked to see further investment in CCTV in towns and warned that Garda overtime in key areas, such as rural burglary prevention and Dublin inner city policing, must be protected.

There was also criticism of the modest 3 per cent increase (€1.25 million) in the legal aid budget at a time when some litigants are waiting up to 36 weeks to get an initial appointment with a legal aid solicitor.

Many in legal circles expected a bigger increase following recent comments from new Chief Justice Frank Clarke that high legal costs were a barrier to justice for many.

The Free Legal Advice Centre (Flac) pointed out that last year the legal aid budget increased by 12 per cent. It said it had hoped this year’s budget would abolish all legal fees for domestic violence victims.

"We are concerned that the 3 per cent increase will not allow the abolition of legal aid fees in domestic violence cases. We are further concerned that the allocation will not have any significant impact on the waiting list," chief executive Eilis Barry said.

The Minister announced a €63 million increase in current expenditure for the Department of Justice, bringing its total budget to about €2.6 billion.

This will be used to provide additional funding for areas such as Garda oversight, legal aid and data protection measures.

Mr Flanagan also announced an extra €157 million in capital investment in the justice sector. This will provide gardaí with “modern accommodation, vehicles and technology”, he said.

The funding will be partly used to build new Garda headquarters in Sligo, Macroom, Clonmel and Galway. The existing Garda stations on Kevin Street and Harcourt Square in Dublin will be replaced.

The Government is also allocating €4 million to establish a new passenger information unit, which will screen airline passenger data to combat terrorism and human trafficking, as required by EU regulations.

An extra €5 million in capital investment is being made available to the Courts Service to upgrade its technology systems.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times