Three hundred garda cars were taken off the roads this year -- the highest number in years.
New figures today lay bare the serious challenges facing gardai across the country as stations struggle to deal with major cutbacks.
Gardai have expressed major alarm at the shortage of squad cars, with fears growing that the raft of vehicles being taken off the roads will seriously impact on the public.
And a body representing gardai today warned that the shortage is putting officers' lives at risk.
Some 300 cars were taken out of service in the past 12 months, figures seen by the Herald reveal.
It means that almost six cars were withdrawn every week: the highest number experienced by the force in years.
And the figures are a dramatic decrease on the previous two years as government cutbacks take hold.
The number is a significant rise on the 222 cars taken out of service last year, while just 50 were removed the year before.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) expressed grave concern at the figures and warned that the shortage would put officers and the public at risk. "Effective transport is a basic tool for a police service. The public need a fast response when they are vulnerable to crime or have been involved in a traffic collision. Gardai are often the first responders in any life-or-death situation," said GRA vice-president Dermot O'Brien.
"Gardai do not have enough serviceable cars and now must regularly attend emergencies in underpowered and underequipped vehicles in all conditions. This is unfair on the public, and puts gardai at risk."
According to the GRA, the force had 2,814 vehicles in 2009 and that this number will be reduced to just 2,238 by the end of this year.
Fianna Fail senator for Dublin North East Averil Power said the shortage of cars is causing families and communities to feel "more insecure".
She said: "With stations closing and fewer garda cars on the streets, community policing services are really starting to suffer. Gardai are doing their best but their capacity is being hugely undermined and communities are starting to feel more insecure as a result.
"Response times are inevitably suffering because cars simply aren't available when needed. Gardai are being put in an impossible position."
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Alan Shatter said: "The garda authorities have confirmed they are satisfied that a comprehensive policing service continues to be delivered throughout the country.
"The provision and allocation of garda resources, including transport, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. In that context, the garda authorities have indicated that over 150 new vehicles were brought into service in 2011 and to date 40 vehicles have been brought into service this year.
"It is also the case that provision has been made within the 2012 Garda budget for the purchase of additional vehicles via a new contract, subject to the Commissioner's operational requirements and the availability of financial resources."