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*A Garda checkpoint in West Clare. Photograph: Martin Connolly

Clare’s Garda Division is to merge with its Tipperary counterpart as part of widespread changes to the governance structure of An Garda Síochána.

On Thursday morning, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris unveiled a new operating model for the force. Almost 1,800 Gardaí are expected to be on the front-line by the end of 2021 as a result with an increased number of community policing teams to follow. The restructuring at national, regional and locals levels aims “to provide a greater focus on community policing based on local needs”.

In what is said to be the biggest restructuring of the force in modern times, Garda divisions are being reduced from 28 to 19 with four regions covering the country when there was previously six. The reduction of Divisions will commence on a phased basis with the new structure to be implemented across 2020.

Divisions are to rise in size and will be “operationally autonomous”. Each Division will consist of 600 to 800 personnel. “This will ensure each Division has the resources and skills to deliver a wider range of community policing and specialist services based on the demand in their area. Regions and divisions will have greater control over how policing is delivered, while working to a corporate framework and oversight from the centre. The focus of the centre will be on supporting regions and divisions,” a spokesperson told The Clare Echo.

From Monday, Clare will be part of the Southern Region alongside Cork West, Cork North, Cork City, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary.

One Chief Superintendent each had been designated to Clare and Tipperary, going forward there will be just one person in the role for the two counties. Similarly, at present they are both served by seven Superintendents but this figure is to drop to four.

According to An Garda Síochána, there will be more officers “working on the front-line, greater supervision, better resources, less paperwork and more career opportunities for paper and staff. It will make best use of an expanding workforce and investment in ICT”.

Community policing teams are to be introduced dedicated to working with communities to identify and tackle problem crimes in their area. Specialised services including economic crime and cyber-crime are to be delivered locally with enhanced investigations of serious crimes and those against the vulnerable such as sexual crime.

2,090 Gardaí were recruited between 2017 and 2019, a further 478 were deployed to the front-line. They expect an additional 1,500 officers will be recruited from now until the end of 2021 with an extra 1,000 to be re-assigned to the front-line.

Commissioner Drew Harris said the model “will increase Garda visibility in communities. It will mean Gardaí at all ranks will have more time to engage with local communities and stakeholders to help keep people safe. These changes will deliver a more visible, localised and responsive policing service. What won’t change though is the strong connection we have with local communities.”

Both the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and the Garda Inspectorate have recommended the model which An Garda Síochána maintain “echoes the views of our personnel gathered through extensive consultation. The restructure reflects international policing best practice as well as the realities of modern-day policing in Ireland, the changing nature of crime, and population trends”.

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