Figures obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show 7% of the country’s network of over 560 stations have lost all full-time gardaí assigned to them. Official garda figures show almost 40 stations are now policed by officers from neighbouring stations.
The total includes 12 stations which no longer have a dedicated garda based in the community since 2015.
The eight stations to lose their last permanent garda in 2016 were Shercock, Co Cavan; Ballynoe and Boherbue, Co Cork; Corofin, Co Galway; Freshford, Co Kilkenny; Taughmaconnell, Co Roscommon; Bansha, Co Tipperary and Ring, Co Waterford.
A ninth station in Lissycasey, Co Clare, was closed to coincide with the reopening of the former garda station in nearby Kilmihil. Garda statistics also show a further 149 stations face the potential loss of a permanent garda as the communities are only served by one garda.
The findings are likely to raise fresh concerns about policing in rural communities after the closure of 139 stations in the past five years.
The Garda Síochána resisted providing a breakdown of staffing levels at individual garda stations, citing security reasons, until it was directed to make such details available last year by the Information Commissioner, Peter Tyndall, under threat of a High Court action.
An analysis of the figures shows the problem is most acute in Waterford, where almost a third of the county’s 19 stations have no dedicated garda. Eight out of 37 stations in Co Tipperary had the same staffing shortage, with more than two-thirds of all stations having either one or no garda.
More than half of all stations in counties Carlow, Galway and Waterford have a similar threat to the loss of local knowledge among serving gardaí.
However, the trend is not entirely in one direction, as three stations which had previously been policed by gardaí from outside the immediate area had new permanent officers assigned to them last year — Shinrone, Co Offaly, Holycross, Co Tipperary, and Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford.
Overall, the number of gardaí based in stations, but excluding Garda HQ and specialist divisions at the end of 2016, stood at 10,987 — up 84 on the previous year — an increase of almost 1%. More than 12,420 were based in garda stations at peak strength of the force in 2009.
Despite the overall rise in the size of the force, there was a reduction in the number of gardaí in several counties including Kerry, Roscommon, Meath, Mayo, Waterford, Leitrim, Donegal, and Monaghan. Wicklow had the largest decrease with the number of gardaí down over 4%: from 318 to 304. A total of 101 Garda stations were given extra staff in 2016 but 120 had fewer gardaí with the remainder unchanged.
Stations which were assigned 10 or more extra gardaí included Store Street and Rathmines in Dublin, Dundalk, Portlaoise, and Anglesea Street in Cork.
The station in Blanchardstown in Dublin had the biggest reduction in staffing levels — down 11 to 143.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that it was planned to bring the overall Garda workforce to 21,000 by 2021 comprising 15,000 gardaí, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians.
It is planned to reopen six stations on a pilot basis.