- Senator Sharon Keogan
Senator Sharon Keogan — Gardaí on Public Transport
Updated: Feb 15
The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I agree with much of this motion. No one should have to fear for their safety in the course of doing their jobs, least of all those who are out serving our communities day in and day out, as are our bus drivers. The motion states, "this increase is dissuading the public from utilising the transport network". It absolutely is. Reducing fares on public transport was a great call. Making it safe by having constant, regular security on board and making it nice, clean and aesthetically pleasing will boost its user figures even more. If using public transport was a pleasant experience, it would do more to get people using it than any carbon tax could.
According to the motion, "there is a recent increase in anti-social behaviour on public transport across the country". It is not really so. Throughout the country though it is, it is just certain parts of Dublin. Let us call a spade a spade. This motion is all going great and looking great. It then calls for, "the establishment of a dedicated Public Transport Unit within An Garda Síochána".
The proposal contained in this motion is unworkable because we do not have enough gardaí. We spoke about this in November during a debate that took place when antisocial behaviour in this city had reached levels the House could no longer ignore. In 2022, the Garda hired 94 new recruits, a reduction of 75% on 2021 when we had 385 new recruits. The target for 2022 was 800. I pointed out that more than 11,000 people had applied since the previous competition opened in April last year. Between April and November, slightly more than 20 recruits entered the college. That disparity points to the existence of serious flaws in the Garda recruitment system. This must be examined as a matter of urgency if the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner are to have any chance of tackling the issues we are discussing today.
Slightly more than 100 members of An Garda Síochána resigned in favour of other careers last year. New figures show the number of gardaí in the force is now almost 650 fewer than the peak of 14,750 in March 2020. Some are blaming the low numbers passing the Garda fitness test and argue that we should make the test easier because 17% of cadets failed it. That is rubbish, a terrible idea. Who wants unfit gardaí? It is not only about being unfit. A recruit, who is now a trainee garda, stated that the parameters of the test are known and candidates have weeks to train. If they fail, that is on them. People who want to be gardaí and know exactly what the parameters of the test are go into the test and fail it. People who do so logically lack foresight, discipline or an objective view of their capabilities. If any of those are true, in the eyes of most people, they need more training to be a garda. A reporter from the Irish Daily Mail, Ian Begley, took the test. He is a normal bloke. He almost passed, failing only the bleep test by a narrow margin. He stated: "However, I believe that if I had a few weeks to prepare and if my ambition to have the career as a guard depended on it, I would have passed the fitness exam with reasonable ease."
Gardaí who have spoken to major media outlets say the combination of Garda numbers failing and the bleeding away of personnel into the new and expanded specialist units has been a devastating double whammy for the front line. We need more gardaí and security on public transport but we also need them walking the beat. The establishment of a dedicated public transport unit will be unworkable if the only place it can draw gardaí from is the street. The people committing crime know the response will be slow, if it comes at all. The lack of gardaí emboldens criminals and enables crime. The Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner must urgently decide what will be done to remedy this and communicate it to the public.
Last weekend, a garda suffered serious personal injury. Very few people want to join the Garda today. Only 94 were trained last year. The Minister should not be nodding his head. He must get more people into the Garda. Perhaps we are not paying them enough. People deserve safety and security on our streets, in every street, and there should not be antisocial behaviour. If we had enough gardaí on the beat on our streets, it would certainly be lessened. It is up to the Minister to get those gardaí on the beat.