The controversial closure of 139 rural Garda stations is saving the State just €500,000 a year, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has admitted.
The confirmation comes as the latest crime figures show burglaries rose by 8%, from 26,589 to 28,830, and assaults rose 10%, from 14,548 to 16,054, in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period in 2014. There are now almost 80 reported burglaries and 45 recorded assaults, on average, every day, according to the statistics from the Central Statistics Office. Sexual offences are up from 2,006 to 2,072 (+3%).
The actual overall number of crimes is estimated to be even higher as the CSO reported in the summer that around 30% of offences it examined in a sample year go unrecorded.There has been considerable concern at the escalation in rural crime since the Government opted to press ahead shutting stations.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has specifically linked the upsurge in crime to “the human impact of Garda station closures” and at the end of last month, the lack of a local garda presence was referenced in relation to the death of John O’Donoghue, the man who collapsed and died after finding burglars at his home in Doon, Co Limerick.
Ms Fitzgerald has confirmed the closure of the 139 Garda stations around the country has “resulted in an estimated total saving to the State of €556,000 per annum”.
However Ms Fitzgerald, in an answer to a parliamentary question from Sinn Fein’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, said: “The key objective involved when closing Garda stations was to promote the more efficient and effective deployment of resources rather than to secure modest cash savings.”
She said Garda management had concluded, in relation to certain stations, that resources could be better deployed and more effectively used on the front line if those stations no longer had to be staffed and maintained.
“The Garda authorities advise me that policing services in all areas continue to be provided as required through the revised structures,” she said.
“In addition, the centralisation of services will facilitate the introduction of enhanced patrolling systems that will be operational and intelligence led. This patrol system will ensure that a high visibility and community-oriented policing service continues to be delivered throughout the country.”
However Mr Mac Lochlainn, whose question elicited the response from the minister, said €556,000 in savings, was a remarkably low amount of money from something that has had such an impact on community policing. He said the perception, for particularly elderly people living in rural isolation. was that the Garda station in the local village had a garda with an ear to the ground. He said the strength of the gardaí was members’ “routedness” in the local community.
Tim O’Leary chairman of the IFA’s Countryside division, said his organisation was deeply concerned at the escalation of rural crime, particularly the theft of the likes of farm machinery, livestock and scrap metal.
“That is happening because of the absence of gardaí in the localities,” he said. “When a person sees someone acting strangely in a rural area, they need to be able to report it to someone close. If the nearest Garda station is 30 miles away, it is going to be very difficult to get a response. It takes a lot of planning to carry out these thefts, particularly of livestock. You cannot just rock up and steal 30 bullocks. If a local garda is regularly patrolling they will notice that suspicious activity.”
He said there was no doubt that since the closure of stations, more people, particularly elderly, have become afraid in their own homes at night.
“It is difficult to call to them because their doors are locked and they are too nervous to open it,” he said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved