Dr Leo Varadkar’s treatment plan for ailing garda numbers is far from reassuring


If you remember The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin a BBC sitcom from the late 1970s, chances are that you will recall the character, Doc Morrissey. Morrissey was the bumbling company doctor who couldn’t diagnose for love nor money but could recite a patient’s symptoms back to them, saying “I suffer from that too… I wonder what it is?” before sending them away with two aspirin.

I underwent the Doc Morrissey fail to diagnose treatment during the Order of Business in Dáil Éireann a week ago when raising dwindling Garda numbers with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar

I told the Taoiseach that we had 637 Gardaí policing Limerick in 2011, but that this number had now shrunk to just 585, despite our rapidly increasing population.

Dr Varadkar thanked me kindly for my question before proceeding to tell me that they have the same problem in his constituency. Apart from telling me how many trainees entered Templemore last year… that was it. No diagnosis. No treatment plan. Not even two aspirin.

We are over two years into a real and tangible law and order problem. Over that period, I have written extensively about the tidal wave of antisocial behaviour and street crime and identified the culture of impunity, where a small number believe they can get away with anything, as a major cause.

The one positive over those two years is that the denial of the crisis is dwindling. Although it was not pleasant to hear it, Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman, spoke for a lot of people last week when she described walking around certain areas of Dublin as “scary.”

But this is not a problem limited to Dublin. In Limerick, I deal daily with cases of people who are effectively under a curfew in their homes. Far too many people across this island do not even feel safe going about their daily business. The recent spate of arsons is yet another example of how a culture of impunity empowers some in our society.

Colleagues tell me that the Justice Minister’s decision to put more gardaí on the beat in Dublin city centre did help, but where did these extra gardaí come from? They weren’t all new gardaí. Most were existing gardaí doing even more overtime, plus officers taken from other parts of the country.

But temporary measures and moving resources about will not address the core problem. The crime crisis is real and country wide. It requires a permanent solution built around a dramatic increase in garda numbers and resources.

We need more gardai – a lot more. Our population is growing, but we still abide by the 15,000 garda strength figure, set eight years ago. It is out of date. Even if we had the 15,000 gardaí we should now have (but still don’t) we wouldn’t have enough to properly police our streets.

In fact, as my question about Garda numbers in Limerick highlights, the number is still falling. An Taoiseach acknowledges this. He says it is happening in his constituency and across the country. But it is not enough to simply shrug and say we will try to halt the decline.

An Garda Síochána is facing the same recruitment and retention crisis that befell our Defence Forces. We must attract more young people into careers in both and that means making the work attractive and rewarding. It also means giving them our fullest support. We ask them to do difficult tasks and we cannot shy away when they do.

There are other things we must also do. The sooner we re-invigorate the Garda Reserve across the country, the better. We must also get moving on my proposal, first outlined in this paper over a year ago, to compel parents of juveniles convicted of serious anti-social behaviour pay compensation to the victims, where it can be shown that wilful parental negligence was a key factor.

We are not powerless to address the problems facing us. The people I meet and represent trust the gardaí and would feel a lot safer and more confident seeing more of them on our streets. We should listen to them.

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