Numbers in Garda roads-policing units falls to lowest level since 2017, says Drew Harris

Garda chief says numbers do not indicate a lack of commitment to road safety but reflect change in nature of policing

14/03/2022 - NEWS - The Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochána have launched their St. Patrick’s Weekend Bank Holiday road safety appeal.  GV from the Garda checkpoint on the Chapelizod Road.  Photograph Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

The number of gardaí serving in roads-policing units has fallen to its lowest level since 2017, but the Garda Commissioner said this reflects a change in the nature of policing and not indicate an absence of commitment to road safety.

Appearing before the Oireachtas transport committee on Wednesday, Drew Harris said the number of trained road policing officers was currently 623, but he expressed the hope it would reach 700 by the end of the year.

He also told the committee that around 4 per cent of gardaí assigned to dedicated roads policing units would be on sick leave or otherwise suspended at any point – which would take the numbers below 600.

The number of gardaí policing the States roads has been in steady decline since 2009 when, according to official Garda figures, there were 1,046 gardaí assigned to such duties.

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Every county has seen their roads policing force depleted over the past 15 years with the numbers falling by more than 50 per cent in some instances.

The decline comes as the number of people killed on Irish roads has spiked. As of this week 72 people had been killed on Irish roads in 2024, up 13 on the same period in 2023, which was one of the worst years in recent times for road deaths.

Mr Harris said there has been “growth in the demand on gardaí particularly around specialisms that includes the armed support unit, cyber crime and protective service units”.

He said there had been “a huge increase in just the variety of crimes reported to us” and he added there was a “very different policing scenario” to 2009″.

In his opening statement he said he wished to “reassure this committee and the public, that there is certainly no organisational policy to reduce numbers in our Roads Policing Unit”.

He said the Garda was “committed to working with our partners and communities to ensure our roads are a safer place for all”, and he highlighted a number of key measures that, he said, have proven success in curbing poor driver behaviour.

These include the “30 minutes of high visibility roads policing duty during every uniform tour of duty” and an increased deployment of technology, including speed cameras.

He said the first four weeks of the 30-minute strategy “saw increases in detections based on a comparable period in March”.

He highlighted a 55 per cent increase in fixed-charge notices issued for mobile phone use and a 40 per cent increase in breath tests conducted at checkpoints.

Mr Harris said there was a competition for new allocations to Roads Policing Units in the eastern, northwestern and southern regions, adding “allocations to Roads Policing Units in the Dublin region have already commenced from an existing panel”.

However, road safety campaigners warned an absence of visible police is contributing to the level of road deaths in Ireland.

“There were more than 1000 roads policing officers in 2009 and that number has just kept falling,” said Susan Gray of Parc Road Safety Group.

“The authorities are placing a lot of emphasis on technology at the expense of guards on the ground, but it is clear that there is nothing like the physical presence and the checkpoints.”

Ms Gray noted the solitary internal competition for new roads policing officers taking place. “That takes up to five months and we won’t know how many roads police will come out of it for months, and in the meantime there will be more retirements so we are going in the wrong direction and we are seeing the numbers dying on the roads climbing.

“Last year was the worst in a decade it is worse now. This is not rocket science,” Ms Gray said.

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