Part-time Garda Reserve to be trebled to 2,000 in new push
Rank-and-file gardaí say proper resourcing of full-time force should be priority
Members of the Garda Reserve graduating at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary. Photograph: Alan Betson
The part-time unpaid Garda Reserve is set to undergo a major expansion. And the Government wants to encourage those seeking a career in the force proper to first serve a stint as a reservist.
Under Government plans being unveiled on Thursday, 300 reservists are to be recruited this year as the first step in increasing it to 2,000 members by 2021.
The scale of the proposed expansion is unprecedented in the 10-year history of the Reserve force.
At one time it numbered 1,200, but has reduced in size to just under 700 at present as publicity around the concept has waned over time.
Members of the Reserve patrol in communities with full-time gardaí, and aid the policing of major events. It is envisaged that the expanded Reserve would have a greater role in serving summonses and the issuing of fixed-charge penalty notices.
However, the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which presents over 10,000 rank-and-file gardaí in a Garda force of about 12,500, said proper resourcing of the full-time Garda was required rather than the expansion of the unpaid part-time Reserve force.
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the Reserves would play “a supportive role undertaking local patrols and crime-reduction measures”.
Reservists had “undergone training in many of the skills required to be an effective full-time member”, she said.
GRA president Ciaran O’Neill said when the Reserve force was created the GRA believed funds were being spent on recruiting and partially training volunteer members when more full-time gardaí were needed. It was also concerned at the time that the need for reservists to be supervised would prove a drain on resources.
He said those issues had not been addressed in the intervening years, but had worsened. In that environment he questioned the expansion plans.
“The issue of gardaí being properly supervised and guided by senior members was raised by the Morris tribunal and the in more recent Garda Inspectorate reports,” he said.
“And in recent months the O’Higgins Commission found inexperienced probationary gardaí had been often unsupervised, and partially trained gardaí were tasked with the investigation and prosecution of crime normally tasked to experienced detectives.” That situation needed to be addressed.
He added that “part-time unpaid members with limited training” was not the answer.
In Ireland the Reserve was introduced by then minister for justice Michael McDowell in 2006 as part of a raft of measures to reform and modernise the Garda after the Morris tribunal. The GRA and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors were highly critical of the establishment of a Reserve at the time.
Many in the Garda believe Reserves are of limited assistance to frontline policing because they can only work under the supervision of full-time members.
They also say because many reservists work as infrequently as one shift per fortnight or even per month, the cost of their training, uniforms and out-of-pocket expenses delivers minimal return.