Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan, Henry Street
ON THE same week that an elderly man in Bruff was held captive in his home which was badly ransacked, it has been confirmed that Limerick has lost a “startling” 100 gardaÍ in recent years.
Since 2011, Limerick garda numbers have dropped by 15%. In January 2011, there were 656 gardaí, while there are now 557.
Though Chief Superintendent David Sheahan said that the Limerick Garda Division is down resources, he is hopeful that it will benefit from Templemore graduates in November and December.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors president, Antoinette Cunningham, who hails from Knocklong, has stated that there will also be a “glaring vacuum” at sergeant level in Limerick, following the filling of four inspector vacancies.
Chief Supt Sheahan has described the numbers of promotions and sergeants as “positive”.
It was also confirmed this week that the Limerick Garda Division will lose a further 10 gardaí who are to become instructors at Templemore.
Though there will be no immediate replacements, the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald stated that 12 Templemore graduates will be assigned to Limerick, this November.
Concerns have been expressed by gardaí over the distribution of resources.
There are 74 gardaí in the Newcastle West district and just 39 gardaí in the Bruff district. There are 127 gardaí in the Roxboro Road district, and 317 covering the Henry Street district. A number of units in the city cover the entire division.
According to a garda source, county stations have been hit the hardest by six days on-four days off rostering system. The source said that, in small rural stations with four gardaí, it is common that everyone could be on annual leave, sick leave, and resting at the same time. The garda said that this is not a problem in city stations where there are strong numbers in a centralised base.
“In the city, you have flexibility to deal with issues as they arise. That flexibility disappears in the rural station.” The source added that the garda numbers are “startling”.
Chief Supt Sheahan said that where members are on leave at a garda station, gardaí from a local, central station provide policing.
“It is not as if an area is left without policing. That is not the case,” he told the Leader this week.
Chief Super Sheahan said that he does not believe that the Bruff and Newcastle West districts are “more vulnerable” as Henry Street suffered a major loss of 56 gardaí since 2011.
“I have to prioritise, from a policing perspective. If I was to map the level of crime against population and against other factors, you will invariably find that the percentage of gardaí in those areas are equitable,” he added.
Concerns were expressed over the lack of a detective and permanent superintendent in Bruff. A competition [a recruitment process] is curently underway for the detective vacancy, while this has been delayed for the superintendent vacancy.
He added that, while the local garda force is down 90 uniformed gardaí since January 2011, a number of serious crimes have significantly reduced since last year, including burglaries, car thefts and unlawful taking of cars.
“Yes, we are down numbers, but the challenge for me, on a day-to-day basis is to manage the numbers that I have to ensure that the people of Limerick get the policing service that they deserve and that they are entitled to.
“And, yes, I am not going to say that I wouldn’t want more people. I certainly do want more people. But, at the same time, it has to be put into the bigger picture insofar as we are trying to provide leaders for the future,” he said.
This year, 10 gardaí have been promoted to sergeant rank; two from Bruff, two from Roxboro Road, and six from Henry Street. Four sergeants from Henry Street were promoted to inspector rank last week. It is not known if the newly-appointed inspectors will remain in Limerick.
According to the Chief Supt, this reflects the “high standards” of the Limerick Garda Division.
“The challenge for me is to replace those people with equally-competent people, and for them to become the next leaders of the future,” he added.
As a result of inspector promotions, four sergeant positions are vacant. It is understood that two of these positions will be filled immediately, while the two vacancies will be filled, pending a competition. However, this may not happen for a number of months.
“We are in a period of transition. We have a big class coming out in November, and we have another class coming out in December. Hopefully I will be the benefactor of those two classes,” he said, adding he is “positive” about the number of new recruits in 2017.
He said that police forces, worldwide, had to “tighten their belts” following the economic crash.
AGSI president, Antoinette Cunningham told the Leader on Wednesday: "The AGSI is on the record as stating that garda numbers are falling despite ongoing recruitment campaigns.
“762 garda members departed the force or began three-year career breaks in 2014 and 2015. In that period, 550 recruits were taken into the garda college – a net loss of 112 members.
“The situation nationally is mirrored in Limerick. We are now seeing vacancies at Inspector level being filled, leaving a glaring vacuum at sergeant level. Unfortunately, these gaps in manpower are as a direct result of a garda recruitment ban from 2009-2014 and are causing serious pressures on supervision.”