Physical fitness test shouldn’t be depriving us of good gardaí

Is the fitness test for gardaí too demanding? So asks Trevor Laffan   
Physical fitness test shouldn’t be depriving us of good gardaí

A Garda passing out parade in Templemore in 2022 - there is come concern that the physical fitness tests are too stringent.

THE Garda College is officially described as the national centre for police training, development and learning within the Irish State. It’s a modern campus structure on eight acres within the town of Templemore, Co. Tipperary.

Back in 1979, when I joined An Garda Siochana it was known as the Garda Training Centre.

Not only has the name changed, the entry requirements have been altered too. According to there are now three stages to the recruitment process.

Stage one invites applicants to complete a series of online assessments, which are completed at home in an unsupervised environment on a laptop or PC.

Stage two is a competency-based interview which is a structured interview designed to establish if the candidate is suitable to serve effectively as a member of An Garda Síochána.

The third stage is the Physical Competence Test (PCT) & Medical Examination. This is described as the final stage and is not considered to be a major obstacle for candidates who are fit and healthy, but it cannot be taken for granted.

The medical examination was always tough, and rightly so. 

In 1979, when I was going through the application process, the medical examiner noticed a scar on my abdomen. It was a throwback to surgery I had as a five-year-old child.

When the records for the operation could not be located in the hospital, I had to undergo tests to satisfy the authorities that the problem had been successfully dealt with. Fair enough.

There was no physical test at entry level back then, but there is now, and while they say it’s generally not a major obstacle, it does seem to be causing some controversy.,

Fianna Fail TD Jim O’Callaghan told RTÉ that the fitness tests were too demanding and were blocking a recruitment drive, and one-sixth of garda applicants last year failed the test. The Physical Competency Test (PCT) comprises of a shuttle run (bleep test) and push-ups. Following a two-hour break, trainees must then overcome an obstacle course and the push-pull machine, which recreates a physical row.

Some 55 of 315 of the garda recruit candidates who took the fitness assessment last year failed.

Mr O’Callaghan said the obstacle course must be completed three times in under three minutes and 20 seconds, and if you fail any component, you must repeat the whole test. He expressed concern that the fitness test is too demanding, out of step with other jurisdictions, and is blocking recruitment.

This could pose a problem for the Government’s plan to recruit 1,000 new gardaí.

I learned recently that 52 potential candidates were invited to participate in the PCT but only 37 turned up. Of those who turned up, 25 failed the run and only 12 passed all aspects of the test.

At that rate, enlisting 1,000 new recruits this year seems like a daunting prospect.

It seems to me that this fitness test could be preventing good candidates from applying for An Garda Siochana, and eliminating candidates with good potential simply because they can’t negotiate an obstacle course or pass a bleep test.

You could take that a step further with a marching test and eliminate any candidate who can’t march in formation.

For their graduation, students will be required to perform a complicated routine on the Parade Ground while keeping in step. It’s not easy and they wouldn’t have a hope of achieving that on day one without lots of instruction and hours of practice.

If that PCT had been in existence back in 1979, I reckon a sizeable number of my intake of 90 or so recruits would have been sent packing early on. I know for sure I would have struggled.

Some of the lads were fit, like Matt Connor, who played football for Offaly at the time, but I certainly wasn’t. I had other strengths though.

There were ropes suspended from the beams in the high roof of the gym. We had to climb these, touch the beam and shimmy back down again.

I had spent years working on building sites with my father, climbing up and down scaffolding, so I had strong arms and shoulders. I could scale these ropes while others struggled. Horses for courses.

By the time I left Templemore, I was a lot fitter than I was when I went in, thanks to instructors and training. I even marked the late John Egan, the well-known Kerry footballer, in a soccer match shortly before we passed out. Although the less said about that the better. He smiled and said hello to me before we started the game, but I didn’t see much of him after that. He was all over the place and left me for dead. He was like a ghost.

I’m not objecting to the fitness test, just the timing of it.

Once a person is certified as being medically fit, they should be capable of reaching the required level of physical fitness with the necessary training. A PCT would be more appropriate at the end of that training to assess their progress.

Placing such emphasis on physical fitness before even being accepted into the organisation seems strange, given that for the rest of their service it won’t be an issue.

Their level of fitness will never again be measured in the course of their service, unless it is required for a specialist unit.

I was very fortunate during my 35 years to have worked with some of the finest policemen and women the Force had to offer. Like me, many of them wouldn’t have worried Sonia O’Sullivan in a sprint and wouldn’t have qualified for Ireland’s Fittest Family either, but they gave distinguished service all the same.

For me, the character of the person is the most important attribute. Everything else can be taught.

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