I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána, all ranks, as at 23 February 2004 is 11,920.
In April 2000 the Government agreed,inter alia, to a system of delegated authority under which recruitment is carried out to maintain the strength of the force at an agreed level. In April 2002 the Government agreed to increase the approved strength of the force by 200 to 12,200.
Some 690 Garda trainees were taken into the Garda College during 2003. The Commissioner has projected, based on the anticipated rate of retirement, that the maximum authorised force strength of 12,200 will be achieved during 2004.
In addition, the Commissioner has projected that a total of 342 trainees are required to meet the demand created by compulsory retirements and projected voluntary retirements and other discharges for 2004. However, he cautions that all projections are based on variables and are therefore subject to change. The matter of voluntary retirements will be closely monitored, particularly in the early months of this year when historically a higher number of applications are received.
I have already made it quite clear that I will not be content with raising the strength of the Garda Síochána to an historic high of 12,200 by the end of 2004. As soon as budgetary circumstances permit I intend, with the approval of the Government, to make progress towards the target of 14,000 provided in the programme for Government.