Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
An Garda Síochána
I wish to raise the associated issue of what I will refer to as the recruitment crisis in An Garda Síochána. At present, we have approximately 14,300 attested members of An Garda Síochána. In my opinion, that is not enough and we need to closer to 16,000. The reason I say that is not simply because of the ever-increasing population in this country, but also because of the ever-increasing number of crimes that are being created as a result of laws being made by this House. Sometimes, Members of the Oireachtas do not recognise or acknowledge the fact that when we make criminal laws, we are creating greater work for An Garda Síochána.
The reason I say there is a recruitment crisis in the Garda is because, this year, we have only been able to recruit 90 members. In fairness to the Government, it recognises that we need to get garda numbers up. In budget 2022, we provided for the recruitment of an extra 800 members of An Garda Síochána, and in budget 2023, we provided for the recruitment of 1,000 extra members. However, when we look at the fact we have only been able to recruit 90 members this year, it emphasises that we have a recruitment crisis.
I want to propose to the Minister of State a number of proposals which I think will be effective in seeking to tackle this recruitment crisis. If we do not tackle it, we are going to find ourselves in a situation, perhaps next year, where we simply do not have sufficient numbers. One of the things we could do quite quickly is to look at changing the retirement age of An Garda Síochána. At present, we lose many qualified, experienced and knowledgeable members of the force because they are required to retire at 60 years of age. If we are having difficulty in recruiting members, we should look at increasing the retirement age for a period of years, and that is obviously something that can only be done in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
A second thing we could do is build upon what Deputy Stanton said in his previous contribution, when he spoke about trying to recruit members from the Garda Reserve. The reason we need to recruit more members into the Garda Reserve, as Deputy Stanton noted, is because that will necessarily provide another flow of recruits into An Garda Síochána.
I also think we need to look at a proper recruitment campaign. When we look around this city, we see the effort to recruit people to work in the health service in Australia. We need a much more active and vibrant campaign when it comes to recruiting people into the Garda.
Another point we cannot shy away from is that this has become a much tougher job and a much less attractive job than it was many years ago. I am not going to talk about the specifics of the horrific incidents we saw over the weekend in parts of Dublin, when gardaí were being attacked but, unfortunately, many people do not find the job as attractive as it was previously. As a society, we need to start emphasising more the importance of the special role gardaí play in protecting our communities. It is a difficult task but it is a task we cannot shy away from.
We must also recognise that in order to make it a more attractive job, we need to ensure there is better protection for gardaí. In particular, I am concerned about the fact I hear body cameras will not be provided to An Garda Síochána until 2024. We need to expedite that.
It is essential that we put together a policy that formulates how we are going to recruit more people into the force. If we do not do that, we are going to find ourselves in the very difficult position, because of ongoing and consistent retirement, that we simply will not have sufficient numbers to police the country and to enforce the laws we make. I am interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say in response.
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for raising this issue. While recruitment to An Garda Síochána has faced challenges in recent times, this has been due in the main to public health restrictions in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. The effect of the restrictions has been a slower than anticipated flow of new entrants into the Garda College.
While the Minister for Justice has no direct role in the recruitment of Garda members, she and the Government are committed to building stronger, safer communities and to continually supporting and strengthening An Garda Síochána. As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Commissioner is responsible by law for management and administration of Garda business, which includes the recruitment and training of Garda members and staff.
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, engages regularly with the Commissioner and senior Garda management on the issue of recruitment and wants to ensure every support is in place to deliver on Garda recruitment.
I assure the House that the Government is committed to ensuring An Garda Síochána has the resources it needs, with record funding of more than €2.14 billion allocated to the Garda Vote in budget 2023. This includes provision for the recruitment of up to 1,000 additional Garda members and 400 Garda staff in 2023 and will enable sustained ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. I am advised that 369 new gardaí have been attested so far this year. A further intake will enter the college this month, with all of those trainees coming from the 2022 recruitment campaign. Those who commence training later this year will attest in summer 2023. In total, more than 460 trainees will have graduated from the Garda College or started their training in 2022.
I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are currently 14,283 Garda members across the country, representing an increase of almost 12% since 2015, when there were 12,816 Garda members. The substantial increase in the number of Garda staff has allowed for more than 870 Garda members to be redeployed to front-line duties where their policing experience and training is of the greatest use to the service and the community.
The Minister was pleased that, in response to the recruitment competition held earlier this year, more than 11,000 people indicated an interest in joining An Garda Síochána, more than double the level of interest in the previous campaign, in 2019. This shows there is still enormous interest in policing as a profession in Ireland. I encourage all those called from the current competition not to defer but, rather, to make sure they are fully fit and ready to take up the opportunity.
I have been advised by the Garda Commissioner that a new Garda recruitment campaign will be launched in early 2023 and this will ensure a steady flow of recruits into the Garda College, with 200 new recruits planned to enter Templemore every three months, starting from January.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. As regards the statistics he provided, he said that 369 recruits were attested this year. I am conscious that the Minister of State is not at the Department of Justice. My understanding is that many of the gardaí who were attested this year were recruited last year. There can be little doubt that we need to get the numbers up in An Garda Síochána. The Minister of State made the point that approximately 11,000 people expressed interest and he stated that they should get themselves fully fit. My understanding is that, notwithstanding the interest, many of the applicants are not passing the fitness test. I am concerned about that. We may need to reconsider that fitness test. Is it too strenuous for those undertaking it? If a significant number of people are failing the fitness test, it should be reconsidered.
I am conscious that the Garda Commissioner is ultimately responsible for matters within An Garda Síochána and recruitment, but that will not happen unless there is Government action to ensure we recognise a problem that is coming down the tracks. We, as a Government, need to get more involved in actively encouraging the Commissioner to get involved in recruitment.
I welcome the amount of money the Government is making available to An Garda Síochána. I do not think the Government can be criticised for the fact that in the budget this year it has provided funding for 1,000 new gardaí. However, as I said, the numbers are not adding up in that regard. If one looks at the numbers attested last year, one will see it was not the case that the 800 gardaí for whom funding was provided in budget 2022 were attested. I am concerned that, notwithstanding the provision of a budget for 1,000 gardaí to be recruited next year, there will be difficulty in reaching that number.
We need to recognise the problem and ask the Commissioner to address it. Let us run a public advertisement recruitment campaign to get people into An Garda Síochána. It is a great career.
I thank the Deputy. He mentioned that we in the Oireachtas are good at creating laws, but we have to take into account that those laws have to be implemented and that every law we pass creates new requirements and burdens on the Garda. Where possible, we should remove some of the laws that are on the Statute Book. He made the point that any recruitment campaign we run should be vibrant. Such campaigns should be competitive with other positions for which people might apply. The State, although perhaps not the Garda, can certainly be accused of having a more functional style of communicating with the public than a commercial entity would have.
The Deputy made three specific proposals, which are good to hear. First, he suggested that the retirement age be increased to over 60. Obviously, that would take industrial relations and negotiations to achieve. Second, he proposed that we recruit from the Garda Reserve and that we should have a more vibrant campaign. He also suggested that the fitness test and whether it is preventing people from entering the Garda be considered.
I have to make the point that I, as much as anybody else, am horrified and shocked to see videos of gardaí, including female gardaí, being beaten in the street. I would hate to see that repeated. I am sure many actions will be taken to protect those who are tasked with protecting us, and that such events will not happen again.