A 25-strong Garda unit has been set up in Cork City specifically to ensure water protests don’t become violent.
The unit — consisting of 20 gardaí, four sergeants and an inspector — become operational in recent days and will be deployed at flashpoints where there is potential for trouble.
A Garda Representative Association (GRA) spokesman said he could understand the need for such a unit, but said garda numbers were being so depleted that it’s taking even more gardaí off the beat where they are badly needed.
The move has been criticised by water protesters who say that burglary rates in the southside of the city have increased considerably in recent months and these gardaí would be better employed trying to catch those responsible.
As yet there is no mention of a similar Garda unit being formed in the Cork West Garda Division, where no significant protests have been reported.
There is also no mention of one for the Cork North Division, although there have been ongoing protests in Cobh and also in Watergrasshill.
GRA central executive committee member Michael Corcoran said in recent years the number of gardaí out on the beat had been reduced by the setting up of specialist units like the armed Regional Support Units (RSU) and the expansion of the traffic corps.
“Also child specialist interviewers have been created and custody gardaí in the courts have taken away from regular unit resources, none of whom have been replaced.
“Add to that all of the retirements and it might give you some idea of the scale of the haemorrhage,” Garda Corcoran said.
He said the lack of proper resources on the streets “has gone way beyond crisis point and is totally demoralising”.
John Lonergan, chairman of the “Ballyphehane Says No” group, which has been protesting against the installation of water meters for the past two years, described the move as “a disgrace”.
His group were the first in the country to prevent Irish Water from installing meters at Ashbrook Heights, Togher.
They are currently blocking utility workers from installing meters at two locations in the Ballyphehane area.
“These are peaceful protests. They [gardaí] would be better off on anti-burglary operations.
“All over Ballyphehane and Douglas people are getting their homes broken into every week. In the lead-up to Christmas the burglars will be at it even more. The gardaí need to be deployed to catch them,” Mr Lonergan said.
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