Shutting the door on rural Garda stations

THE large-scale closure of small rural Garda stations is expected to be recommended in a new policing plan currently being prepared by the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.

An analysis of Garda deployment in September reveals approximately one-third of the country’s 660 stations are either unmanned or have just one serving garda.

The figures also highlight how there had been significant changes in the number of gardaí serving in different divisions over the past four years.

Sixteen of the 26 counties have seen a reduction in gardaí, while the size of the force has increased in 10 counties and two are unchanged.

The number of gardaí stationed in Co Monaghan has dropped by almost 27% — down 60 to 163 while numbers in Co Laois have fallen by over 17% — down 32 to 154. Other counties to suffer reductions in Garda strength including Donegal, Kerry, Clare, and Cavan.

In contrast, the number of gardaí posted in Co Kilkenny has risen by 19% — up 31 to 193, while Westmeath and Carlow have also seen large increases in Garda staffing levels.

On a district basis, the figures reveal that the number of gardaí stationed in a quarter of all Garda districts has decreased by 10% or more since the start of the economic recession. Twenty-six out of 108 Garda districts have experienced such a large reduction, many located in border areas.

Among the districts to suffer sizeable decreases in personnel are Monaghan (down 27.3%); Buncrana, Co Donegal (-19.8%); Caherciveen (-19.6%); Portlaoise, Co Laois (-17.2%) and Boyle, Co Roscommon (-16.7%).

However, there was an increase of 10% or more in gardaí deployed in 14 districts nationwide over the same period.

They include Thomastown, Co Kilkenny (up 35.3%); Ardee, Co Louth (+29%); Mullingar, Co Westmeath (+19.1%); Kildare (+18.4%) and Gort, Go Galway (+17.6).

The figures also reveal wide disparities in the number of gardaí assigned to cover similar populations.

For example Co Limerick has the highest concentration of gardaí anywhere in the Republic — with 610 gardaí covering a population of almost 192,000 or 31.8 gardaí per 10,000 population.

In contrast, Co Kildare with a population of 210,000 has just 319 serving gardaí — a staffing level approximately half that of gardaí in Limerick and the lowest in the country. Other counties with high levels of gardaí on a per capita basis include Leitrim, Sligo, Dublin, and Westmeath.

At the other end of the scale, other counties with low Garda concentrations include Meath, Offaly, Wexford, Laois, Kilkenny, and Kerry.

On average there is one garda for 395 people are 25.3 gardaí for every 10,000 population nationally.

In a Dáil reply last week, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he believed most people would accept that it would not be sensible to keep open every single Garda station.

“What matters is not simply a bricks-and-mortar presence in every locality, but rather the delivery of the most effective policing service possible to the public in that area,” said Mr Shatter.

He stressed that it is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources including personnel throughout the force.

The allocation of resources was constantly monitored in the context of crime trends, policing needs, and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional, and regional level to ensure the best possible Garda service was provided to the public, said Mr Shatter.

However, the minister said he expected that the 2013 policing plan prepared by the garda commissioner will recommend further rationalisation of the Garda station network.

Mr Shatter said it would be premature to speculate on what Mr Callinan’s plan might contain.

Under legislation, the garda commissioner must review all aspects of the force’s policing model including the deployment of personnel, the utilisation of modern technologies, and the operation of Garda stations including opening hours and possible closures.

It is understood that Mr Callinan has requested all divisional officers to assess the level of activity in each Garda station in their area.

Mr Shatter stressed that the key objective of the review was “to promote the more efficient and effective deployment of resources rather than secure modest cash savings so that as many Gardaí as possible are deployed on front line operational duty rather than based in Garda stations”.

Factors such as population, crime levels, trends, and policing priorities are also taken into account in the preparation of the Garda plan.

Mr Shatter said it was “entirely sensible” for the Garda Commissioner to examine how best to deploy gardaí on operational duties.

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