Belfast Telegraph

Ireland 'on brink of police crisis'

Ireland is on the brink of a policing crisis, rank-and-file officers have claimed.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) said shutting down stations, cutting pay and freezing promotions have taken their toll on the force.

Damien McCarthy, president of the organisation, which represents more than 11,000 grassroots members, issued the stark warning as the GRA gathered for its annual conference.

"I think it's a recipe for disaster," he said. "We have all the necessary ingredients in place now to ensure that we are on the brink of a crisis in this country in terms of policing."

Mr McCarthy said morale was rock-bottom, with officers finding it increasingly difficult to carry out everyday duties. While he singled out a number of austerity measures, he also attacked Justice Minister Alan Shatter over the absence of new laws to better protect officers from violent assaults.

Last year, the GRA urged Mr Shatter to bring in legislation making it a specific offence to assault a garda, paramedic, nurse or other frontline emergency worker. The demand came on the back of figures showing an average of two garda officers are attacked during their work every day.

"It's one of the reasons why morale is so low," said Mr McCarthy. "I think it is an absolute disgrace that this area has been left untouched and nobody seems to care about the difficult challenges that frontline public servants do on a daily basis."

The GRA wants anyone convicted of assaulting a garda or other emergency worker to face jail sentences of up to five years, rather than non-custodial sentences issued under present laws.

Mr McCarthy said the Department of Justice appeared to treat the threat of violence as an acceptable occupational hazard for members of the force. The issue could not be allowed to fester any further, he added.

The GRA president also warned the force was "at a crossroads" over garda station closures. Refusing to say what potential action could be open to gardai, he said he would deliver a "clear message" to Mr Shatter at the two-day gathering in Athlone, Co Westmeath, starting on Tuesday.

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