Promise of 2,000 extra gardai can be realised - Minister
The Minister for Justice insisted yesterday it would be possible for Fianna Fáil in government to increase the number of gardaí in the State by 2,000 despite claims by the Garda Representative Association that it could not be done.
Mr O'Donoghue said his promise could be realised over the next five years by extending the Garda training college in Templemore.
The president of the GRA, Mr Greg Fogarty, said the Garda training college was already running at full capacity and last night, despite the assurances of the Minister, he said he remained sceptical about whether the Minister's plan could be achieved.
"I'm still sceptical that it can be done because of a lack of specifics on the part of the Minister and because a building can't be put up overnight," he said.
He pointed out that the number of gardaí increased by 900 during the lifetime of the last Government despite the Garda college running at full capacity and it would therefore take at least 11 years to train a further 2,000 gardaí. He added that over 1,900 gardaí will be eligible to retire in the next few years and this could make it difficult for Garda recruitment to keep pace with those leaving, let alone increase net numbers.
However, Mr O'Donoghue told the Pat Kenny Show he was confident his plan would be realised. "I believe it is possible. Before the last election in 1997, I promised that we would bring the force to its highest level in the history of the State from 10,800 to 12,000. That will be achieved this year.
"Obviously it is more difficult to ensure that we will bring the force up by a further 2,000 but I have plans to do that, and the way in which I intend to do that is by providing for an increase in the number of gardaí who will be recruited every year. We would recruit say 700 gardaí per annum over the next five years. That would bring us to a situation where we would have 3,500 recruits. Taking it that 300 would again retire every year on average, that would leave us with a net increase of 2,000.
"Now I do accept that at the present time the capacity of Templemore is in the region of 500 to 600 and it would be necessary and will be necessary to increase the capacity of Templemore. In order to do that I have costed our plans. I asked a committee of experts in fact to look at our plans and having looked at the plans they believe also that it is feasible.
"By providing approximately €25 million for capital works where required and by providing €75 million per annum by way of current expenditure we can increase the numbers in the force and pay them," he said.
He dismissed suggestions that it could take years to extend the Garda training college.
"I can fast-track Templemore and I intend to do so," he said.
"On our return to Government we will assess what additional accommodation is required and immediately make provision in order to ensure the additional capacity is provided. I would hope that we would provide the expanded accommodation immediately," he added.
The Minister's plan has also been dismissed as unrealistic by Opposition deputies.
And Department of Finance correspondence, details of which were published in The Irish Times last month, also said it could take up to 10 years to implement.
The timescale, it said, was based "on the existing turnover of gardaí and the limited capacity of the Garda college in Templemore".
It also noted that even if the Garda had the capacity to increase the numbers in training, "they would struggle to attract sufficient numbers of suitably-qualified trainees".