Until the beginning of the 19th Century, the police were under the control of the Grand Jury. By the 17th Century, there were in theory at least high constables, for Barony and petty of parish constables for each parish. The Grand Jury appointed the high constables from 1734. The Justice of the Peace appointed the petty constable if the sheriffs and seneschals failed to do so.
By a 1787 Act, the Lord-Lieutenant was to appoint a chief constable, for each Barony under whom there would be sub constables appointed by the Grand Jury. By a 1792 Act, which did not apply in 13 counties
By the beginning of the 19th Century there was relatively small number of constables, who were poorly paid, and many were only part time staff.
In 1814, when there were serious disturbances, the Baronial police were supplemented by a force under the control of the central government. The Lord-Lieutenant had power to proclaim an area to be in disturbance and to require additional police. The Lord-Lieutenant could appoint a Chief Magistrate of the Peace in this area with powers of the Justice of the Peace, and with a clerk, chief constable and a force of sub-constables for his assistance.
In 1822, the Lord-Lieutenant was given power to appoint a chief constable for each Barony and direct Justices of the Peace to nominate constables, and in default and in default do so himself. The force was to be equipped at the expense of the County from government stores. Chief constables would report to the Lord-Lieutenant quarterly. The Lord-Lieutenant was given power to appoint four inspectors of the Baronial police and superintendents of the constables for County Dublin.
By the 1830s, the constabulary and baronial police comprised nearly 7,700 officers and men. In addition, there were the peace preservation forces stationed in 10 counties. There were also the Dublin Police and the Revenue police. The Revenue Police dealt with excise and related matters. The principal function was suppressing illicit distillation.
In 1786, the Lord-Lieutenant was given power to appoint three police commissioners who were placed in control of a force of approximately 750 men. In 1795, the corporation was given power to appoint magistrates. In 1808, the power to appoint management of the Metropolitan Police was again shared with the Lord-Lieutenant.
The force was under the control of 18 magistrates, 6 selected by the corporation and 12 by the Lord-Lieutenant. The magistrates were to appoint constables and were to report to the chief secretary or undersecretary. By the 1830s, the Force comprised 200 constables and 500 watchmen.
In 1836, legislation, the Constabulary (Ireland) Act was introduced to make the Irish police force more effective in view of the continuing sectarian and agrarian disturbances. Another act in 1836 reformed the Dublin Police.
The Lord-Lieutenant was given power to appoint two paid Justices of the Peace, known as Commissioners, to be responsible to the Chief Secretary. They were to recruit a sufficient number of men and make rules and regulations for the Force.
In the same year, the Revenue Police were reformed, and standards of training and education were greatly enhanced. In 1857, the Revenue Police was abolished and it functions were transferred to the Constabulary.
The Irish Constabulary was renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1867. It was a largely centralised force. It was under the control of the chief secretary’s office.
Most of the police officers were directly commissioned and entered and trained as cadets. Later in the 19th Century a greater proportion of appointment were filled by the promotion of non-commissioned officers. By the end of the century, at least half of the vacancies of District Inspector were to be fulfilled by promotion from inside the ranks.
The officers under Inspector General and immediate subordinates were sub-Inspectors and chief constables. The rank-and-file comprised head-constables, constables and sub-constables.
In 1839, county Inspectors and sub Inspectors replaced the rank of sub inspector and chief constable. In 1883, sub inspectors, constables and sub-constables were renamed district inspectors, sergeants and constables. In 1881, a new grade of police officer was created.
Special Resident Magistrates were appointed who were responsible for coordinating and directing the forces of law and order in groups of counties. They had the powers of the Justice of The Peace, although their duties were also executive.
The police force numbered 8,400 initially and have grown to 12,000 by 1914.
In 1846 the cost of maintaining the Constabulary was transferred to the UK Government. Each County was given a police establishment. If additional police were required, the county was required to meet half the additional cost.
The primary function of the police was to maintain law and order. However, a range of additional functions were given to the police, including collecting agricultural statistics, census enumerators, enforcing fishery laws, enforcing food and drug laws, enforcing weights and measures, explosives and petroleum legislation.
The Dublin Metropolitan Police was organised differently to the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Dublin Metropolitan Police was responsible for the police district of the Dublin Metropolis. This was to be divided into six districts. By 1914, to the Dublin Metropolitan Police was 1200 strong. Both police forces were usually armed.
Eighty one percent of the rank-and-file of the RIC were Roman Catholic by 1914. However, the centralised command structure remained, and officer grades were secured for those whose loyalty was unquestioned. By 1922, the number of police per head of population was three times that of England and Wales.
After the 1918 election, the provisional government campaign was aimed principally at the RIC. The first incident involved the killing of two RIC officers in an ambush in January 1919.
The RIC was augmented by the notorious Black and Tans in 1920. In the period from January 1919, to July 1921, 425 RIC men were killed and 725 were wounded. The RIC withdrew from large areas of the countryside and half of the barracks which it held were abandoned.
Upon the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Royal Irish Constabulary were disbanded and the new force, An Garda Síochána was established. It was hoped that the Garda Síochána would enjoy a greater level of public support than the Royal Irish Constabulary which had been seen as an instrument of the central government through much of its existence.
A committee was established in early 1922 under the chairmanship of Michael Staines, the head of the Republican Police, to report on proposals for police organisation outside of Dublin. Nine members of the committee were former RIC men. It proposed a broadly similar structure to the RIC administered by a commissioner with a strength of 4,300 men.
The service was originally named the Civic Guard in English but was established with its Irish language name An Garda Siochana; the guardians of the peace.
The basic rank would be equivalent to the British Constable and will be broadly similar to the RIC. The distinction between officers and men would remain. Promotion would be by way of competitive exams. The force was to be drawn from the Republic Army, the Republican Police, men who were dismissed or resigned from the RIC or DMP, the civilian population and disbanded RIC and the DMP members.
The force was proposed to be independent of the administration, but answerable to it. The Commissioner would be responsible to the government. The proposals were accepted, and Michael Stains was appointed the first commissioner. The committee had recommended an armed force.
A police organising committee was appointed by the provisional government which contained large numbers of RIC officers. The RIC Constabulary Manual of Law and Duties continued to be relied on.
Internal tensions in appointment and the brewing Civil War led to the Kildare Mutiny in 1922 and subsequent commission of enquiry. The mutiny was seen as a consequence of the perception that former RIC men have excessive influence in the new force.
The commission proposed that the proposed force be technically disbanded and reformed. Politicians should be ineligible to the hold office in the force. Commissioner Staines resigned. He was a TD . He was replaced by General Eoin O ‘Duffy.
The Commission recommended that the force generally be unarmed. It was desired that the force be seen as servants of the people rather than an arm of government. By January 1923, the Garda Síochána were unarmed.
The Garda Síochána (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923, put the force on a statutory footing. It was already well established by that time. The functions of the RIC in respect of petty sessions sittings and matters were transferred to the Garda Síochána. The temporary legislation was succeeded by the almost identical Garda Síochána Act 1924. The Police Forces Amalgamation Act 1925 amalgamated the Garda Síochána with the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The Garda Síochána was established as a body of men divided into ranks under the general direction and control of the Chief Officer. The Chief Officer and other senior positions are appointed by government and the officeholders could be removed by it. The Department of Justice enjoys extensive powers to make regulations for the general management of the force.
An Garda Síochána sought to establish legitimacy by the consent. The period from 1922 to 1960 was characterised by very low crime rates, high emigration of, an authoritarian social climate and a reinvigorated Catholic Church.
Since 1961 crime rates have increased by many multiples. The range of Garda’s powers have increased enormously in the last 40 years. Criminal law has been modernised particularly since 1997.
The Garda Complaints Board was established in 1986. This followed disquiet despite regarding the powers of detention in the Criminal Justice Act 1984. There was concern about the effect on civil liberties.