92. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to strengthen the Garda Reserve to deliver on the commitment to visible and responsive policing in communities throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 16484/18 asked on 17 Apr 2018)

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the recruitment and training of the Garda Reserve and the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda Divisions. As Minister, I have no direct role in the matter.

I am advised by the Commissioner that the strength of the Reserve on the 28 February 2018 was 569. It is regrettable that there has been a substantial reduction in the strength of the Reserve in recent years from a peak of 1,164 in 2013. The fall-off arises from a range of factors, not least the lifting in 2014 of the moratorium on recruitment of trainee Gardaí which has affected Reserve numbers in two ways:

- firstly, some serving Reserves have successfully applied to become trainee Gardaí, and

- secondly, resources in both An Garda Síochána and in the Public Appointments Service (PAS) have been focused on delivering an accelerated programme of recruitment of full time members of An Garda Síochána.

I am sure that the Deputy will agree, notwithstanding the very valuable contribution of Reserve members throughout the country, that it was the right decision, with finite resources, to prioritise the running of recruitment campaigns to replenish the full-time ranks of An Garda Síochána over the last three years.

The “Programme for a Partnership Government” includes a commitment to double the Garda Reserve to act in a supportive role undertaking local patrols and crime reduction measures. In line with this, the Government has in place a plan to achieve a Reserve strength of 2,000 by 2021.

With the plan to reach 15,000 Garda members well on track, it was possible for the Commissioner and the PAS to undertake a new recruitment campaign for Garda Reserves last March. That competition attracted 2,394 applicants of whom 498 successfully completed the initial stages carried out by PAS. These applications are currently being processed by the Garda Appointments Office. The time frame for this can vary due to a number factors, including the length of the vetting process which may, for example, be more time consuming if the applicant has resided abroad or is deferred for medical reasons. It is expected that the first of the successful candidates will commence training in the Garda College in the coming months.

In conjunction with the major expansion of the Reserve over the next number of years, we must ensure that it is used to optimum effect to support effective policing. To inform future decisions around the use of the Reserve, An Garda Síochána is conducting a strategic review as a matter of priority with a view to completion in the first half of the year as set out in the Policing Plan 2018.

As a first step, the Garda Executive has taken a decision to transfer the management of the Reserve to the Assistant Commissioner with responsibility for Community Engagement. This is intended to ensure that its development and deployment is viewed more broadly through a community policing lens. This is a very welcome step as it is my strong view that the greatest dividend to be gained from the Reserve is in terms of a visible presence on the ground and engaging with local communities.