Hundreds of student gardaí sworn in to boost numbers

Drew Harris says there will be no change in arrests or investigations of serious crimes

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Friday unveiled a range of "exceptional event" measures in response to the coronavirus.

He also insisted that suspects will still be arrested for crimes as usual and the investigation of serious crime would continue.

While he said some gardaí would have a high visibility presence around some shops, including directing traffic in and out of car parks, gardaí would not patrol at retail outlets.

On Thursday there was evidence of panic buying in some shops after the Government annouced a range of restrictions to try and curb the transmission of Covid 19.


There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus within the ranks of An Garda Síochána though some facilities, including cells at Kevin St Garda station in Dublin required deep cleaning after concerns emerged that people who may have Covid-19 had been in them.

Speaking at Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, Mr Harris confirmed the Garda College at Templemore, Co Tipperary, was closing.

In an unprecedented step the 325 recruit gardaí currently studying at the college would be sworn into the force and become fully attested Garda members, including having the power of arrest.

This was happening though some of the recruits were still in the first weeks of their training.

Mr Harris said while it was “not ideal”, the young Garda members would work under the tutorship of experienced colleagues on the streets.

He added those who were now being conferred full Garda powers would go back to the college to complete their training at a later time.

Between the 325 recruit gardaí now being attested and the Garda tutors who work at the college being freed up, the closure of the Garda College would result in over 400 additional gardaíbeing available for duty.

Mr Harris added those Garda members who should be retiring around now on age grounds could stay on in the force for an extra 12 months.

And any officer who had decided to avail of an early retirement package could stay on for an initial extension period of three months.

The new measures are set to come into place next Monday, March 16th. From that date Defence Forces personnel will be in a holding position in barracks and ready to be deployed for any duties for 72-hour rotations.

However, Mr Harris said the Garda had seen no signs of looting or civil unrest and there was no expectation that would happen.

Asked if Garda members had been told only to arrest people if absolutely necessary and to use mechanisms such as fixed charge notices and cautions instead, Mr Harris said there was no ban on any types of arrests.

“Where alternative methods can be used and used appropriately, that will be done,” he said. “But in many cases we will still have no option but to arrest.”

He added the Garda’s focus was now on equipping its staff and putting other measures in place to protect Irish society.

“Arrest is inevitably part of that and there is no ban arrests in any shape or form,” he said.

In the event of disorder or civil unrest gardaí would respond but the measures being put in place to increase the number of officers in the streets aimed to offer reassurance to the public that policing was in place to support them.

The decision to offer Garda officers taking early retirement an extra three months is seen as significant and an effort to create continuity.

It would enable officers like Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy, who is in charge of policing in Dublin, to remain in place until the coronavirus crisis had passed it was under control.

It would also mean senior positions would not be filled by new officers being promoted into crucial posts in the force at a time of unprecedented crisis in the modern era.

In a bid to further shore up the number of Garda members available for duty, annual leave was being restricted to five per cent of personnel in any division or bureau and all non-essential foreign travel was being stopped.

All training at the Garda College for existing Garda members in areas such as handling firearms or advance driving was also scrapped.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times