But the justice minister admitted that falling Garda numbers was an issue and said he would draw up proposals soon for the first recruitment campaign since 2009.
Mr Shatter faced heavy criticism inside and outside the Dáil as doors shut for the last time yesterday on 95 mainly rural stations. Five will close shortly, bringing to 134 the number shut in the past 10 months. He refused to rule out more closures, with at least 100 others possibly under threat.
Mr Shatter attempted to deflect the anger, saying Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had assured him the selected stations were of “no operational benefit”. “I am acting on the best professional advice of the Garda Commissioner,” he said.
He claimed the closures would actually improve local policing by freeing gardaí from desk duty and providing 61,000 additional patrol hours annually.
That claim was dismissed by rank and file gardaí, including members of the force in Cork who described the minister’s strategy as “pure madness”.
Michael Corcoran, a senior Garda Representative Association official in Cork City, said the combination of closures and reduced opening hours in other stations was “ill-advised and dangerous”.
“One small community in West Cork whose local station is closing will now be 76km from the nearest 24-hour Garda station along some of the worst roads in the country.
“The response time for that community will be one hour, 15 minutes at best and that’s in ideal conditions when the car is not tied up with other calls. The criminal will be long gone by the time that lone patrol car arrives.”
Mr Shatter denied he had reneged on election promises that closing stations would not be considered for cost-cutting purposes. Former Mountjoy governor John Lonergan rubbished that argument: “It’s totally economic.”
“The removal of local Garda stations throughout rural Ireland is definitely having very, very detrimental consequences for the local community in rural Ireland and it is causing an added layer of fear and insecurity.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged 128 prisoners are at large from the country’s open prisons, including 103 from Loughan House in Cavan.
That is the same open facility where Martin McDermott escaped from last March while serving a seven-year sentence for the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin in 2009.
RTÉ received the figures from the Irish Prison Service under the Freedom of Information Act.