Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said organised crime will not be allowed to "run amok".
Speaking at the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual delegate conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, he defended his record on tackling organised crime as gangland feuding flares in Drogheda, Co Louth.
“You could always do with more. But my responsibility is I have €1.76 billion for the organisation, I have 15,000 members plus over 2,000 staff. The challenge for me is, against the policing plan, how I use them most effectively to keep people safe.
“And that’s about preventing serious crime and not allowing organised crime gangs to run amok. So that’s one of the big priorities for us. But we have many other priorities; the security of the State, roads policing, crimes against the vulnerable.”
While he had the option of hiring 800 new gardaí this year, he has decided to take in 600 instead, with some 500 civilians also being hired.
That civilian intake, he said, would “displace” 500 gardaí from desk-bound jobs and see them deployed back on the front line.
Mr Harris also insisted gardaí in the Louth division were being well supported by the national Garda units, including the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), as they tried to contain feuding which has involved 74 crimes, including shootings and petrol bombings, since last July.
Mr Harris was responding to comments at the GRA annual delegate conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, where the resourcing of the Garda and its recruitment policies were harshly criticised.
Garda Damien McCarthy, a high-profile member of the association who is based in Dublin’s south inner city, described as “mind boggling” the decision to recruit 200 fewer gardaí than had been budgeted this year.
He also believed the public was being misled by statements from Government that the Garda had all the resources it needed.
GRA general secretary Pat Ennis said while the association supported Mr McCarthy as a delegate, he did not agree with his assertion that Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had been "negligent" in not resourcing the Garda properly. He agreed resources were an issue, however.
Mr Ennis said while a reform programme was under way in the Garda, most of his members had yet to experience that process. And he believed they were working very difficult jobs, often without adequate resources.
Mr Harris responded by saying the language used at conferences could sometimes become “a tad overheated”. He expected the GRA’s support at a time of great expansion and change for the force.
“I genuinely do not think we could grow much quicker. Last year we took in 800 new members and this year we’ll take in 600 new members . . . and take in 500 Garda [civilian] staff.
“Of course I could always say I could do with more. But actually the physical reality of bringing them in is nigh on impossible. We are at full stretch in terms of our training and change in the organisation while still providing a policing service.”
In relation to the feuding gangs in Drogheda, Mr Harris said the ERU had been drafted in this week and 25 extra gardaí would be deployed to the town next month. He added all of the crimes of the feuding gangs were being investigated under Operation Stratos.
Mr Flanagan said the resources available to the Garda at present were at a “record level”, adding the budget was €1.76 billion.
And he said the decision on the part of Mr Harris to reduce the intake of Garda members in favour of accelerating civilianisation was one with which he agreed.
Asked about plans to establish an Armed Support Unit in the Cavan region, to shore up security around the Border, Mr Harris said the training required for personnel seeking appointment to the armed units was long and arduous. But the unit, and the vehicles and other equipment required for it, would be in place before the end of the year.