The Garda Commissioner has agreed that the motivation of a "small number of individuals" involved in so-called far-right protests against asylum seekers was "sinister" and that they were using the cover of others to "promulgate their prejudice and hatred".

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Drew Harris said he would not consider them nearly as groupings, but individuals who coalesce around issues who find each other on social media, but that there is always an international component to this.

"We work, then, with our other sister security services across Europe in terms of identifying trends and patterns.

"Very much we've seen patterns of lone individuals reaching out to each other, taking an issue and then agitating on social media and where they can trying to influence protest activity. So we're seeing a pattern of that, that is behaviour which is seen across Europe as well."

On shortcomings found in the way hundreds of thousands of 999 calls were handled in the past, the commissioner said "cancellation" of calls had been not been good terminology but it was a legitimate means of dealing with a call.

He explained that often gardaí receive duplicate or multiple calls, such as in a bad motorway collision, resulting in subsequent calls to the initial one being "cancelled".

He said the issue has been dealt with in terms of processes in control rooms - and the first roll-out of a new command/control system will take place in March 2023.

He said there has been new staff, new training, and new supervision, and a "very close eye" was being kept on processes - including bringing all calls from stations to the control centres.

He said all calls into the control centres are recorded so there was a means of supervising this and going back to do a full audit of what gardaí are being told.

The commissioner said An Garda Síochána was "very alive to the public confidence piece of this".

"The treble 9 system works and we would encourage people if they have an emergency or a crime in action to report, please use the treble 9 system, it is your best way of getting through to us."

Gardaí having to adapt to jobs market

On the recruitment and retention of gardaí, the commissioner said the target of having 15,000 personnel would be reached "at the tail end of 2024".

He said: "Because of cessations - people both retiring and resigning from the organisation - over the next two years we would need to recruit in the order of about 2,000 members into An Garda Síochána and that would get us to the figure of 15,000."

But he said that since he became Garda Commissioner, the complexity of what the service is doing has increased.

These included, at each divisional level: a protective services unit to deal with such crimes like domestic abuse and child abuse; a rise in cyber crime; and more liaison with international partners.

"So there's lots of areas of growth as well as growth in the population as well and it takes a long time to build up organisational numbers because we always have cessations."

He said: "Particularly these couple of years, because of surges in recruitment 30 and 40 years ago, a lot of people are actually at the point of retiring."

He acknowledged that the number of serving gardaí resigning had increased from 68 three years ago to 109 in 2022 and said there was "concern" at the figure.

"We want to conduct exit interviews, we want to have an understanding of why people are leaving, but obviously there is a lot of movement in the workplace and I do have people who have joined An Garda Síochána who are very well qualified and then see attractive employment opportunities elsewhere - and that's in part the reality of our job market, but also the attraction of other countries as well."

The commissioner said Ireland was in a positive position economically and it made the labour market "quite volatile".

He said An Garda Síochána advertised for people to join up for a long-term commitment to policing and was having to adapt to the more modern job market as well.

Body cameras

On the subject of legislating for body cameras with facial recognition for gardaí to wear, the commissioner said he was "in constant communication with the Department [of Justice] ... and I have been assured by the minister that this is receiving the utmost attention".

"It does help a lot in terms of gathering evidence, it helps a lot in terms of taking first reports of crimes, but also then garda members also feel it's important in terms of their protection and provides evidence of the nature of assaults and incidents that they're facing."

He said once the legislation was enacted he would want to run a pilot, saying it's not so much the cameras, rather "the complexity behind it in terms of storing images to a criminal justice standard, and so it's a considerable investment but we'd want to run that out by the tail end of this year if possible, and I think that's achievable, but obviously we need the legislation first even before we can go to procurement".

Asked about the potential for bodycams to enable mass surveillance and to be misused, the commissioner said facial recognition technology was "actually protection for people".

"If a garda uses their camera, say, on Grafton Street, records an incident, deals with an individual, there's going to be dozens of people in the backdrop who are included in that footage just going about their normal business," he said.

"Part of the facial recognition technology is actually pixelating all of them out and that safeguards bystanders' privacy and it may be important in some instances for protecting witnesses' identity as well, so there's a lot to be said for using the most up-to-date methods."

The commissioner said that An Garda Síochána was "only asking what is the European standard - we don't want to go beyond in any shape or form what is the accepted European standard around law enforcement".

"These cameras have been in use for approximately ten years, we're one of the very few countries that is without body-worn cameras and they have proven their value in terms of evidence gathered and at difficult scenes in terms of domestic abuse scenes and first allegations of sexual assault, etcetera, they provide very valuable evidence of those."

'Heavy burden' of assaults

Mr Harris said assaults on gardaí in the course of their duty is "an area of great concern".

He said the risk to members of the service and what you can do to mitigate that risk is "one of the heaviest burdens" of the office of Commissioner.
The Garda Representative Association has formally requested an urgent meeting with senior Government figures in a bid to create a special taskforce on challenges faced by gardaí, including assaults on members as well as recruitment and retention.

The request, which was sent to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Minister for Justice Simon Harris, follows a a specially convened meeting of the GRA's Executive Committee.

"An Garda Síochána today faces an unprecedented challenge with rising assaults on our members, failures within both the recruitment process and the retention of gardai contributing to a situation of low morale among those we represent," GRA Interim General Secretary Philip McAnenly said.

"We have outlined all these issues with our colleagues in government and have requested these meetings as a matter of extreme urgency," he added.