Police staffing crisis on both sides of the border needs addressed

One in ten police officers are unavailable every day due to sick leave
One in ten police officers are unavailable every day due to sick leave

While there can only be deep concern about the issues involving the PSNI and the Belfast journalist Barry McCaffrey which are due to be considered shortly by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in London, it remains essential that the basic policing services required daily by citizens in all parts of Ireland are properly structured.

There is a growing sense that police staffing levels on both sides of the border have slipped below the levels required to ensure that the public is adequately protected at all times.

It has been well documented that the PSNI, in a region with a population of 1.9m, is struggling to cope with a total of 6,700 officers, particularly at a stage when an alarming percentage, approaching not far short of one in ten, is unavailable every day due to sick leave.

The 1999 Patten Report, which received a fully justified welcome for its measured assessment of the future direction of policing in a largely peaceful but still divided society, envisaged that 7,500 officers would be required to provide an effective and accountable service, so a significant gap has arisen.

In the Republic, with a population of just over 5m, there are 14,000 Garda officers, meaning that staffing levels in pro rata terms are lower than the north, and it will be noted that Scotland, which has a population only slightly ahead of the Republic, has just under 17,000 police officers.

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There can be no doubt that the case for increasing the PSNI budget would be much easier to argue if we had a properly functioning devolved administration, with the endorsement of all our main political parties, in place at Stormont.

The Irish government, with all the massive financial resources at its disposal, is in a different position and is well placed to invest in policing within its jurisdiction, both to take on organised crime and also to ensure that ordinary people are protected from random assaults and robberies.

In Dublin, both residents and visitors from all part of the world are entitled to expect that they can walk the central streets of our capital city without facing entirely undue risks.

There is enormous alarm about recent episodes in Dublin city centre in particular involving vicious attacks on visitors from other countries.

Action is urgently needed on both sides of the border and, while progress may be difficult in the context of the Stormont stalemate, there is a strong onus on the Dublin administration to address its own responsibilities.