Its proposed introduction here prompted a major row between then minister for justice Michael McDowell and rank-and-file gardaí. Eventually, the minister got his way and the first members of the Garda Reserve graduated in December 2006. But almost four years on, new figures reveal that by the end of June there were only 555 attested reserve members based at stations around the country. This is around one third of the original target set.

Justice minister Dermot Ahern told the Dáil earlier this month that the figure was set to be augmented by a further 180 student reserve members, 83 of whom have since graduated.

"The government has set a target strength for the reserve at 10% of the full-time strength of the force. As the Garda Reserve depends on volunteers who undertake their training and other duties during their free time, it is difficult to predict how many people will commence training in any particular period," he said.

"However, I can assure the deputy and the House that the garda commissioner is continuing to make every effort to reach the recruitment target… the Public Appointments Service has received over 7,000 expressions of interest to join the reserve since the start of this year.

"The government is strongly committed to the development of the reserve. It has been a very successful initiative and I am confident that it will continue to flourish into the future."

However, a spokesman for the Garda Representative Association – which resisted the introduction of the reserve – told the Sunday Tribune that it believed the money spent on recruiting and training the reserve would be better spent employing full-time members of the force.

He said members of the reserve had to be accompanied – or "babysat" – by a fully-attested member of the force, and there were serious limits on what they could be used for.

"We would like to see every available euro spent on policing, and we would object to any money being spent on what is a supplementary initiative," he said.

"Until that point, this is a luxury which we can ill afford in the current climate."

Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said he believed the idea of a garda reserve "would have been strangled at birth" were it not for the personality of the then minister for justice [Michael McDowell].

He had used its introduction as a "smokescreen" to mask other difficulties he was having meeting commitments on garda numbers.

"It seems to me on balance it is a positive thing, but experience bears out there was never any warmth for it or encouragement for it among gardaí, " he said.

AMONG the celebrating Shamrock Rovers fans in Tel Aviv last week was a senior garda "football intelligence officer" who has been assigned to travel to all the Hoops' foreign games to ensure there are no violent clashes involving fans.

The Sunday Tribune understands that following discussions with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), gardaí have now assigned a "football intelligence officer" for each League of Ireland team. The role of this plainclothes garda is to carry out intelligence ahead of the games to gauge possible planned outbreaks of violence as well as travel to all away games.

The garda must also liaise with the local police force in each area where the team travels and provide them with any information that might be significant for its own monitoring of the football match. "It has been decided that this is necessary action to take. It is an extensive intelligence gathering operation," said a source. "The liaison with the local police is a very important element."

There is always a visible garda presence at many home League of Ireland matches. About 100 Irish fans travelled to Tel Aviv for Thursday night's Europa league match, which saw Shamrock Rovers beat Bnei Yehuda in dramatic fashion.

The Hoops now face a two-legged tie against the most successful club in Italy, Juventus, who visit Tallaght this week with the second leg the following Thursday in Modena, Italy. Among those travelling to Italy for the game will be the club's garda "football intelligence officer".

Initially, Shamrock Rovers were due to play Juventus at the Italian giants' Stadio Olimpico in Turin but it had to be moved to Modena because U2 have already booked to play at the Stadio Olimpico.