Coronavirus: Garda numbers at record level as hundreds of recruits sworn in

200 prisoners released from jails in recent days to prepare to manage any outbreak


The number of Garda members in the Republic has surged to a record level of 14,750 as hundreds of recruits are on Friday sworn in in an emergency measure due to the Covid19 crisis.

It has also emerged that some 200 prisoners have been released from jails in recent days as the Irish Prison Service positions itself to manage any outbreak in the prison system.

The number of prisoners freed on temporary release, all non-violent offenders, had increased to 492 yesterday, up from 305 at the start of the month with total numbers in custody now down to 4,026.

The size of the Garda force, excluding civilian Garda staff, has increased by 500 members since the start of the year. It is now larger, by about 200 gardai, than the previous record reached in 2009 when numbers peaked just months after the economic downturn.

Hundreds of recruits training in the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, have been given a crash course in arrests, using a baton and public order policing and have been sworn in over the past week.

Some had only commenced their training this year but because there are fears the Garda could be hit hard by Covid-19, a decision was made to allow them skip their training and be sworn in immediately with full policing powers.

There have been a small number of positive tests for Covid-19 among Garda members in recent days. Some senior officers and frontline members have gone into isolation pending test results as they were in contact with an infected colleague, though disruption has been minimal to date.

Garda sources told The Irish Times there had been no signs of civil unrest, looting or other crimes committed by people taking advantage of the current phase of self-isolation and businesses closing.

There have been a number of robberies in closed pubs in Dublin and during which shop staff have been threatened and money stolen. However, Garda sources said there was nothing to suggest these crimes had arisen because of Covid19.

Anecdotal evidence has begun to emerge of illicit drugs being delivered to users’ homes after orders were placed over the phone. However, sources stressed it would take time to assess the impact of the lockdown measures on the availability of drugs and their price, which they believed would increase.

Some Garda members who spoke to The Irish Times said they were concerned domestic violence would increase. They were fearful this would happen in the days and weeks to come when what they termed “cabin fever” or “Christmas Day syndrome” set in as people spent more time in close company in their homes and gardai have been told to be vigilant.

Senior officers said there was a “record low” number of arrests and recorded crimes in recent days, including St Patrick’s Day when a spike in crime, mostly thefts and drink-related offences, normally occurred. However, as pubs were closed and events cancelled this year, the rate of that offending plummeted.