Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has said critical vacancies at senior ranks in An Garda Síochána need to be filled with at least eight appointments needed at management level for the effective operation of the police service.

Minister for Justice Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said she only heard this morning that there were this number of vacancies and she would now discuss them with the Commissioner.

She was speaking at the graduation of 145 new gardaí in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste had insisted for the past two days that there were only three vacancies at senior ranks in the force.

However, at the Garda College today, Ms Fitzgerald accepted that the number of critical vacancies was in fact eight.

Commissioner O'Sullivan said at least one assistant commissioner, two chief superintendents and five superintendents need to be appointed for the effective operation of the police service.
 
However, Commissioner O'Sullivan said more senior officers also need to be approved to fill vacancies that exist all over the country, from Limerick to Galway, Mayo to Longford and in the specialist units in Dublin.

Seventeen officers were informed last July that they were to be promoted but the Cabinet has not sanctioned their appointments.

The minister said she would discuss the filling of the eight critical vacancies with the commissioner but the Cabinet will need to promote at least 12 officers to bring the strength of the force up to the Government's agreed limit.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan this afternoon said it is imperative that the Government fulfil its function of governance and fill the critical vacancies as soon as possible.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr O'Callaghan said he was surprised the Minister for Justice was not aware of the exact number of critical vacancies in the gardaí, questioning whether there was any communication between the Department of Justice and the Garda Commissioner.

"Presumably the minister should know if there are critical vacancies and if she's saying she only found out about that today, well, that's a matter for concern."

Mr O'Callaghan said the Government cannot wait for the Policing Authority to have assumed responsibility before appointments are made.

"You cannot have a situation where the Government abandons its responsibility. We do not have responsibility transferred to the Policing Authority yet and because of that, the Government needs to do its job.

"The Minister remains responsible and the government remains responsible for promoting and appointing senior figures within An Garda Síochána. It's at a critical stage now and they need to do that tomorrow."

Earlier, Sinn Féin become the latest party to call on the Government to fill the vacancies.

Sinn Féin's Jonathan O'Brien this morning said his party supports the transfer of responsibility to the Policing Authority at the end of the year, but in the meantime it is the Government's responsibility to fill the vacancies.