McDowell plans to recruit 1,400 volunteer gardaí

03 February 2005
By Cormac O’Keeffe

JUSTICE MINISTER Michael McDowell plans to have 1,400 volunteer reserve gardaí in place by the end of the decade.
The minister said the garda reserve will have the same powers, duties, immunities and privileges as full-time gardaí.

Garda representative associations and the State’s human rights watchdog have expressed concerns at the proposal.

Speaking yesterday, Mr McDowell said the number of volunteers will be around 10% of the full-time force, which is scheduled to reach 14,000 members by 2008.

“I would hope the reserve force would be in place within the next five years and I hope the planning would start in the relatively near future,” he says.

The reserve will be modelled on the voluntary police force in Britain, known as the ‘Special Constabulary’. It is understood the volunteers would accompany gardaí on the streets, particularly at busy periods.

They will also be used to ‘steward’ major events, such as sporting occasions and parades. In addition, the volunteers could have an involvement in processing traffic offences and other administrative functions.

Provisions enabling the establishment of the force are contained in the Garda Síochána Bill 2004, currently before the Dáil.

The garda associations have expressed concern at the establishment of a volunteer unit.

“We’ve no problem putting in enabling legislation, but we don’t believe there is a public demand for it,” said Pat Flynn, general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).

“We don’t believe it’s the way to go. We believe the force should be steadily increased up to a proper number. We also believe they should carry out a proper study on An Garda Síochána to see what is the proper number of gardaí required to provide a proper service.”

The State’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) has also expressed opposition to the volunteer force.

“The HRC is seriously concerned about any proposals for the exercise of police powers by ‘non-gardaí’,” said the body.

“We believe that individuals who have not undergone any serious period of police training and education should not be granted legal power to arrest and use reasonable force.”

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr McDowell said he would meet the AGSI and any other representative body to discuss the matter.

He said the volunteer force was entirely separate.

“I want to make it very clear both to the representative associations and the public that in no way do I consider garda reserve an adequate substitute for an adequate professional full-time police force.”

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