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Garda call taker in Harcourt Square centre. Laura Hutton via Photocall Ireland

Fears lack of staff at emergency centre could see 'one garda directing 100 cars'

The new centre is due to start work this month.

SERIOUS CONCERNS HAVE been raised over the new garda communications centre in the western division which is due to start working this month.

The communications centre for emergency calls in the west is expected to be operational to take calls in the coming weeks. However, sources familiar with the current set-up have described how there’s “not enough staff” to cover the work. 

Over 40 people are supposed to be taking on the roles. This number is made up of civilians as well as gardaí. However, well-placed sources have told this publication that there is currently a shortfall in the number of staff required. 

What this means is that substantial pressure will be placed upon garda members and civilian staff who will be attempting to dispatch garda cars to serious incidents. 

The net effect, according to the well-placed source, is that response times will be affected, so too will morale of staff. 

How the system works and why there’s a problem

When someone rings 999, they get through to one of four emergency call centres around the country. You’ll be asked what service you are looking for and where you are located. If you ask for the gardaí you will be patched through to a call taker who may be either a garda or a civilian.

It’s the call taker’s job to listen to the nature of the emergency, determine its priority and decide on what kind of garda service you require.

That information is then available to a team of dispatchers, who operate out of the same room, and they look at the garda resources available and direct them to the problem.

There are four units in the western communications centre which will be tasked with taking emergency calls and dispatching the appropriate resources in the new communications centre. 

The new centre in Renmore, Galway, will cover both the western and border region, meaning that staff will be fielding calls from 10 different counties. There are also channels for armed response and traffic that will need to be manned at all times. 

There’s supposed to be five gardaí in each of these units in the western centre. But what is feared is that when one member needs to take a break or go on annual leave, there will be a deficit that will not be able to be plugged. 

Sources have described how one garda member could be controlling the dispatch of 100 different patrol cars.

The civilian staff are solely call takers at the moment. The plan is for the civilian staff to take over the dispatching of vehicles in the next two years in all of the communications centres across the country. The other locations are on Harcourt Street, Cork and Waterford.

However, the Cork and Waterford centres aren’t fully operational yet.

Chief Superintendent Tom Curley, who is based in Galway, said that 41 staff will be ready to work when the centre finally opens. This will be a mixture of civilian and garda staff. 

Concerns have been raised that the full complement of staff will not be available. 

A garda spokesperson said last night: “The Western Regional Communications Centre is set to go live towards the end of Q1 2019. We intend to fully brief media nearer the time of the launch date.”

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