575 gardai off sick this week as force under 'significant strain'
There were 575 garda officers on sick leave this week, amid continuing pressure on the force's stretched overtime Budget.
Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey told the Oireachtas Justice Committee the force's overtime budget was "under significant strain" - to the point that extra funding had been sought.
He said it had been necessary to reduce non-essential overtime for six days at the end of last month - but stressed that operations to tackle gangland crime and burglaries continued during that period.
Mr Twomey said the same level of budget will not be available to gardai in 2018 and senior managers must ensure they stay within funds allocated to them.
Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said that covering sick leave is one reason overtime is needed.
She asked the senior garda officials if they were aware of a problem with the recording of sick leave, particularly in relation to work-related stress, and asked for figures. Chief administrative officer Joseph Nugent said no issues had been brought to his attention.
He confirmed 575 garda members - around 4pc of the 13,000-strong force - were on sick leave last Tuesday.
The most recent figure he had for those on light duties or restricted hours was 474, on June 30.
Ms Daly asked how many of those who were absent had been on sick leave for periods of longer than a year and Mr Nugent promised to provide the figures at a later date.
Separately, the controversial plan to reopen Stepaside Garda Station was raised.
Opposition TDs have claimed the plan amounts to a political stroke, as Independent Alliance minister Shane Ross had been campaigning for its reopening. Mr Ross and the Government have rejected the accusations.
Dublin West TD Jack Chambers raised comments by Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy, who said any extra manpower for Dublin would be sent to other areas before Stepaside.
Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll - who made the recommendations for the six stations to be reopened under a pilot scheme - said there are plans to recruit 800 extra gardai.
Of 211 new gardai graduating today, he reported, around 88 will be assigned to Dublin.
He said it is "quite possible" Mr Leahy's priorities will be met before any Dublin station is reopened.
Rush is the other Dublin station slated to be reopened.