The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has raised concerns over the "downgrading" of roads policing within the radical shake-up of An Garda Síochána announced on Thursday.
In a statement, the RSA said it “welcomes the promise” of increases to the number of frontline gardaí, but added that it was “very concerned for the roads policing function within the new structure and the implications for road safety”.
The RSA said it viewed the proposed restructuring as “effectively downgrading of road safety within the policing function as it omits roads policing as one of the four key focus areas called out at an operational level”.
Roads policing “has not been referenced within the new plan at all”.
The RSA said it had written to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris voicing its concerns, and had asked for an urgent meeting.
Both the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate warmly welcomed the plan but representative bodies in the force voiced concern about aspects of the project.
The president of the Association of Garda Superintendents Noel Cunningham said it was concerned the plan would "create huge tranches of rural Ireland that will not have the [POLICING]coverage that it has at present.
“And the reason for that concern is that this is not a new idea,” he said, adding the divisional policing model had been examined before and had been implemented in the UK where he said it was not working.
Mr Cunningham added the idea had not come from the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, as had been widely reported, but from an old report by the Garda Inspectorate.
“We are in continuous contact with our colleagues in the UK where these changes have been brought in and we have been told that it doesn’t work,” he said.
“One of the reasons it doesn’t work is because when you make these very large areas of policing automatically what happens is that your resources are pulled to the centre, to the busier centres of policing.”
The result of that, he said, was that the other “outlying areas” in the larger divisions were left with a reduced policing presence.
His association had been briefed about the plan on Tuesday and he said concerns had been raised.
Rank and file
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) said the proposed reorganisation could have a "significant effect" on the working lives of gardaí and their lines of management accountability.
GRA general secretary Pat Ennis said he met Mr Harris on Wednesday, who "assured" him "the plan published this morning is not necessarily the last word... and that the views of the GRA and others will be considered".
“I welcome this, and the fact that the commissioner has ended the speculation around the plan which was based on a version leaked to the media. The absence of hard information was a concern to our members around the country – and other community stakeholders too,” Mr Ennis said.
“Now we have a sense of what is envisaged, our central executive committee can analyse the proposals and consider a response when it convenes next month.”
Mr Ennis said if enhanced policing capabilities and support at local and regional level was delivered, “we would welcome the increased safety and welfare of our members”.
“The proposed reorganisation could have a significant effect on our members’ working lives and their lines of management accountability. There could also be implications for our representation structures which will need to be considered when our executive meets in September,” he added.