Government criticised for abandoning gardai promise

 

The Government has been sharply criticised following confirmation that it will not be honouring its pre-election promise to hire 2,000 extra gardaí.

The Labour Party described the decision as a "major u-turn", while the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said it would cause "serious problems".

The recruitment of 2,000 extra gardaí was one of Fianna Fáil's most high-profile election pledges, and was subsequently included in the Coalition's Programme for Government.

In an interview at the weekend, however, the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, conceded that the plan had been abandoned. "People will say it is a commitment that wasn't honoured," he told the Sunday Business Post.

"But we did not realise earlier in the year that there was going to be a budget deficit of €1.3 billion. It's not a broken promise to people. It would have been worse if we endangered the public finances."

Mr McDowell had all but confirmed the plan was being dropped when he told the Dáil last week that the number of gardaí was to be capped at its current authorised level of 12,200. The current strength of the force is about 11,900.

The Minister said his "first priority" was to bridge the gap by "making maximum use next year of the existing capacity of the Garda Training College, bringing the strength of the force to its highest ever level".

As long as the cap on public service numbers, announced in the Budget, remained in place, however, "it will not be possible to recruit sufficient additional trainees to progress further beyond the figure of 12,200", he said in a written reply to a question by Fine Gael deputy Paul McGrath.

Mr George Maybury, the general secretary of the AGSI, said it was "extremely disappointing" that the Government was going back on its pre-election promise. Combined with a planned cut in Garda overtime and the ongoing loss of members through early retirement, cover would be reduced dramatically at a time when policing was becoming ever more challenging.

Mr Joe Costello, the Labour Party spokesman on justice, said the Minister's interview was formal confirmation that the Government had abandoned its promise to recruit 2,000 extra gardaí.

"This must now join the long list of promises on which the Government has reneged," he said.

Those who voted for Fianna Fáil and the PDs in the belief that this would lead to extra gardaí, safer streets and reduced crime levels had been "bitterly betrayed", he added.

Mr Maybury said the Minister would have to address his organisation's demand for the compulsory retirement age for rank-and-file gardaí, sergeants and inspectors to be raised from 57 to 60.

Many were retiring at 50, he said, because they had a far better chance of securing alternative employment at that stage than if they waited a further seven years. A later retirement age would remove that incentive to leave.

Mr McDowell told the Dáil his objective was to have "a fit, active and experienced force with an appropriate balance as regards the age profile".

With this aim in mind, he was currently reviewing the retirement ages applicable to the Garda Síochána.