A MAJOR report on the gardai has recommended that some Garda stations in Dublin and other major urban centres be closed at night and others closed altogether in a bid to release up to 250 extra gardai on the streets.

The key to "increased visibility" of the gardai, says the Deloitte and Touche Review of Organisation, Structures and Service Delivery, is the "restriction of opening hours and station closures" as has been done already in rural areas. It is understood that urban stations that are fairly close together or where services are duplicated will be the main target for nightime closure.

The scale of opportunity to free resources for visible policing in the Dublin area, says the report "is of the order of 250 fulltime equivalent resources". This is a relatively large number as recent figures released by the former Garda commissioner, Pat Byrne, showed that at any one time there are just over 1,500 uniformed gardai on duty throughout the country as well as almost 400 detectives and 150 plain clothes gardai.

In a further bid to make policing "more visible", the report recommends that "where appropriate, all non-regular policing officers should be instructed to wear uniforms unless it is deemed inappropriate given the nature of the role". However, previous efforts to put more gardai on the streets by putting civilians in administrative Garda posts have not been successful. A 1999 pay deal between Justice and the main garda representative associations - the GRA and AGSI - included Garda cooperation with the civilianisation of over 550 garda posts.

Four years later, not one civilian appointment has been made.

The associations agreed to the move but wanted it phased in over a period of up to 15 years and also implemented on the basis of natural wastage. This together with the government's cap on public service employment has stalled the plan.

The GRA, which represents over 8,000 rank and file gardai, said it had "played its part" in agreeing a civilianisation route.

It added that it was "clear from the agreement that the number of personnel who will remain in administrative posts is minimal in the context of the overall strength of the force.

The difficulties in implementing civilianisation programmes leaves the gardai with one of the lowest civilian/police ratios in Europe. At 7% it is well behind Sussex police which has a 32% civilian-to-police ratio.

The proposed changes in the organisation of the force are on top of the statutory changes introduced in the Garda Siochana bill last month.

Cooperation with the report's findings as well as other productivity items have been put to the two Garda representative associations in return for the 5% to 6% pay increases under the benchmarking deal and the 7% from the national pay agreement, Sustaining Progress. However, the two associations have yet to sign and are seeking early meetings with the Minister for Justice to clarify exactly what is required of them.