Reborn Garda Reserve could help on overstretched front line

With State cash-strapped, perhaps its time to renew the reserve force, to increase its number and consider extending the power of arrest to its members

 Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan lends her cap to eight-year-old Eva Counihan, whose mother Leonora Power was one of 62 new members of the Garda Reserve graduating at the Garda College Templemore. Photograph: Alan Betson

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan lends her cap to eight-year-old Eva Counihan, whose mother Leonora Power was one of 62 new members of the Garda Reserve graduating at the Garda College Templemore. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but 2005 was a difficult year for policing in the Republic.

The first reports of the Morris tribunal into Garda corruption in the Donegal division had been published and they did not make for happy reading.

The then minister for justice, Michael McDowell, whose Progressive Democrats were keeping the Bertie Ahern-led Fianna Fáil in office in booming Ireland, was determined to reform the Garda.

He set about his task with great vigour, with the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to be the panacea. The Garda Ombudsman was set up to police the police and the Garda Inspectorate to recommend reforms.

The Garda Reserve was established to provide some extra policing at knockdown rates and perhaps afford would-be members of the full-time force the opportunity to experience part-time policing before signing up.

However, the systems put in place by McDowell to facilitate Garda whistleblowing failed spectacularly, leading to the recent troubled period.

The past couple of years have seen the departure from office of former minister for justice Alan Shatter, former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and former confidential recipient Oliver Connolly.

The ombudsman has had a troubled relationship with the Garda, but at times it has functioned well. And the inspectorate had produced some comprehensive research papers with recommendations.

However, the Garda Reserve seems to have little purpose and almost 10 years after its birth it continues to limp towards full strength. It was resisted ferociously at the time by full-time members insulted by the suggestion that unpaid volunteers would work beside them.

However, about a quarter of the recent intake of recruits in the Garda proper were reservists. And the part-time force, members of which must work a minimum 208 hours a year and are paid only in expenses, has proven hugely successful in attracting foreign nationals who have made Ireland home.

The recent inspectorate’s report painted a picture of the Garda as hopelessly depleted, but with hundreds of fully trained full-time gardaí still sitting behind desks far away from the front line.

With the State coffers likely to remain depressed for years, perhaps the time is right to renew the reserve force; to increase its number and consider extending the power of arrest to its members to ease the pressure on their full-time colleagues .

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