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Garda divisions to reduce from 28 to 19 under major shake-up of the force

The changes were announced by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris this morning.

Image: Stephen McDermott

Updated Aug 22nd 2019, 12:03 PM

THE NUMBER OF garda regions and divisions are set to be reduced while local units will be given more power as part of a major reform of the force announced today.

New plans for the organisation of An Garda Síochána will see the number of garda regions reduce from six to four and the number of divisions fall from 28 to 19.

Chief Superintendents in charge of the new divisions will be given more powers and more Superintendents will oversee a more community-based approach to policing in Ireland.

The shake-up will also see 1,500 more gardaí hired by 2021, including 800 to perform new roles within the force, as well as the recruitment of 1,265 garda staff.

Gardaí also expect to free up more uniformed members for frontline policing by reducing administrative structures, introducing community policing teams, offering a wider range of specialised services and enhancing the local investigation of serious crimes.

The proposals follow a number of recommendations by the Commission of Policing in Ireland last year, when the creation of a new district policing model was proposed in an extensive report on the future of policing in Ireland.

The report said it was “clear that the community policing system as a whole is under strain” and that the current structure and practices of An Garda Siochána did not support the image the force had of itself as a community service.

It is understood that no extra government resources will be allocated to introduce the new organisational structure, and that the changes will begin immediately and be made over the next three years.

Restructure to community policing

The new structure means that there will be a reduction in the number of Chief Superintendents as well as Superintendents and an increase in the number of sergeants and inspectors. 

The number of regions will be reduced from six to four. The new divisions will be:

  • The Dublin Metropolitan Region, which will remain the same as it is at present;
  • The North/West Region, which will combine the existing North and West regions;
  • The East Region, which will cover most of Leinster and some of Munster;
  • The South/West Region, covering most of Munster including Cork and Limerick.

The number of divisions will also be greatly reduced from 28 to 19 meaning that each division will be made up of between 600 and 800 personnel.

The process has already started on a pilot basis in four divions, Kevin Street (Dublin), Cork city, Mayo and Galway, and will continue elsewhere on a phased basis until 2021.

Two Superintendents in each division will be responsible for community engagement, while one Superintendent will be in charge of crime policing and another will oversee the performance of police work.

The divisional changes are also expected to reduce the administrative burden on uniformed gardaí by creating ‘business services’ units, which will tackle more bureaucratic aspects of policing such as paperwork and financing.

It’s expected that 1,500 more gardaí will be hired by 2021, including 700 members to replace retiring gardaí between now and then and 800 members for new roles, while 1,000 more gardaí will be reassigned to operational and investigative roles.

At a regional level, the Garda’s Armed Support Units will be expanded, while there will also be new capabilities to deal with cyber crime.

Commissioner Drew Harris, in a statement to the media, said that the improvements would allow the force to increase the number of gardaí at the frontline and enhance community policing.

“Reduced bureaucracy and ICT initiatives combined with an increase in garda members and garda staff will increase garda visibility in communities,” he said.

It will mean gardaí at all ranks will have more time to engage with local communities and stakeholders to help keep people safe.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan also welcomed the new proposals, saying they would maximise the force’s operational impact at local level to deliver an improved service.

“In delivering on this commitment, the Commissioner has listened carefully to those experts and, crucially, to the voices of local communities who consistently make clear they want to see more Gardaí available on the ground,” he said in a statement.

Mixed reaction

However, there was a mixed reaction from garda unions and higher-ranking gardaí at the proposals.

The Garda Inspectorate, which examines the overall performance of the force and promotes best practice in its operations, welcomed the announcement of the new operating model.

“Rationalising the number of divisions will create significant benefits including an increase in the number of front line resources and a more responsive and consistent approach to the delivery of policing services,” Chief Inspector Mark Toland said.

“It provides an opportunity to reduce the number of people working in back office support functions as well as  reducing management and administrative overheads.”

The Garda Representative Association said it would seek a meeting with Harris to discuss the changes, and welcomed an indication from the Commissioner that he would be open to considering feedback from the association on the proposals.

“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,” GRA General Secretary Pat Ennis said in a statement this morning.

“If the commitment in the operating model to provide enhanced policing capabilities and support at local and regional level is delivered, then we would welcome the increased safety and welfare of our members.

“This would also enable us to provide a better service to the public.”

However, President of the Sergeants Association Noel Cunningham said there were concerns that the new model would lead to a centralisation of resources and leave less busy areas more vulnerable to crime.

“We’re concerned that in this model, the same thing would happen in rural Ireland, where you would create huge tranches of rural Ireland which will not have the coverage which it has at present,” he told Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1.

“We’re in the mouth and the teeth of Brexit at the moment. We’re also in a situation where organised crime has never been as great as it is now.

“And you’re removing the management structures, the experiences managers from those areas in this new proposal.”

With reporting by Garreth MacNamee.

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