AN UNPRECEDENTED number of experienced gardaí have indicated their intention to retire from the force by the end of the year over concerns their lump sum gratuity will be taxed in the forthcoming budget.

Over 300 gardaí aged 50 and older have already retired this year and at least 150 more have lodged papers with An Garda Siochána indicating they intend to retire by the end of December.

That number is rising day by day, according to sources, and there has been a “flurry of applications” in the past fortnight. Many members are seeking to retire over fears that their tax-free gratuity sums may be taxed next year. A well-placed source said it was likely that 500 gardaí, many from senior ranks, will have left by the end of 2010.

“It is a mass exodus. And it’s bad for everyone – gardaí and the general public,” he said. Gardaí can retire from the force at age 50 if they have 30 years’ service. The compulsory retirement age for senior officers is 60.

Joe Dirwan, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), said the loss of so many gardaí was a cause for concern.

“This represents a huge loss of experience, local knowledge and knowledge of criminals, both local and national. In the case of members of sergeant and inspector rank who retire, it also represents a huge loss of experienced supervision and it has the effect of reducing the age profile of the force,” he told the Sunday Tribune.

“Sixty per cent – roughly 6,000 members of garda rank – currently have less than 10 years’ service. More and more younger members are working without the supervision of an experienced sergeant or inspector.”

Dirwan said gangland crime remained a serious problem as did other types of crime.

“The demands on policing are increasing. There have been 20 gangland murders so far this year including the double murder in Finglas on Wednesday and so-called ordinary criminal activity remains at a high level.

“The threat from dissident republicans is continuing at an increasing level,” he added.

Under the four-year recovery plan announced last week, garda numbers are to be reduced by 1,500 – more than 10% of the force.

The reductions in personnel, which will be achieved through retirements and natural wastage, will reduce the garda from its current strength of 14,500 to 13,000.