Frontline gardaí and supervisors have expressed fears that the new restructuring of the organisation will result in less, not more, policing in rural areas.
Associations representing garda, sergeant and inspector ranks also strongly criticised Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
Meanwhile, councillors in some of the counties that have lost their divisional headquarters expressed “grave concerns” at the development and now fear the consequences of the planned reduction in local superintendents.
Under the Commissioner's new Operating Model, 18 divisions are merging into nine divisions: Cork North and Cork West; Clare and Tipperary; Mayo and Roscommon/Longford; Donegal and Sligo/Leitrim; Cavan/Monaghan and Louth; Meath and Westmeath; Laois/Offaly and Kildare; Wicklow and Wexford; Kilkenny/Carlow and Waterford.
The divisions that have lost their headquarters are Cork North (Fermoy), Tipperary (Thurles), Kilkenny/Carlow (Kilkenny), Wicklow (Bray), Kildare (Naas), Meath (Navan), Cavan/Monaghan (Monaghan), Sligo/Leitrim (Sligo) and Roscommon/Longford (Roscommon).
That means divisions that have benefited are Clare (Ennis), Waterford (Waterford city), Wexford (Wexford town), Laois/Offaly (Portlaoise), Westmeath (Mullingar), Louth (Drogheda), Donegal (Letterkenny) and Mayo (Castlebar).
The Garda Representative Association said both Garda management and the Government seemed to be “completely oblivious” to the entitlement of gardaí and communities to be consulted about the new divisional and regional headquarters.
GRA president Jim Mulligan said members might soon have a new workplace 100 miles or more away from home, saying the way this was done treated them as "second class workers”.
Mr Mulligan said: “Members are also hugely concerned that the lion's share of resources will be allocated to HQs. Our fear is that places further away will end up under-resourced – particularly in rural areas.”
Antoinette Cunningham, deputy general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, said the fact her members learned of the changes through the media showed “scant regard” for them.
She told RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke that the AGSI was concerned that policing resources tended to be pulled into central locations and that this might affect rural Ireland. She said this could mean units having to travel further to respond to situations.
She said concerns were heightened in Cavan/Monaghan, given the recent kidnap of company executive Kevin Lunney by a cross border gang.
Ms Cunningham said the AGSI had not seen any implementation for this new model, nor any plan for Brexit.
She said she “struggled to see” how the promised extra 1,800 gardaí were going to materialise over the next 18 months.
Cavan Fianna Fáil councillor John Paul Feeley, outgoing chair of the Cavan Joint Policing Committee, said the recent news was a blow, given they had just got “positive” news with the announcement by Commissioner Harris, when he was in Cavan, that the long-planned Cavan Armed Support Unit would be operational on Monday.
He said councillors had raised the issue of garda resources for years and that as well as having more frontline members, they needed senior officers who had local working knowledge, were "hands on" and were accountable.
But he said the divisional HQ would no longer be Monaghan but Drogheda, which, he said, was about a two-hour drive from Blacklion in Cavan.
“Our primary concern is visibility of police and effectiveness of police,” he said. “Events have shown in recent weeks - which have been familiar here for many years - that policing issues were not addressed.
“If the Commissioner thinks this is the best way, he should justify it, but I would have grave concerns.”
He said they had two superintendents in Cavan and feared how many they would have in the new division, given there are expected to be 2-3 community engagement superintendents across the new division.
He said he was confused as to the role and power of the new regional chief superintendent, which will be based in Monaghan, given the regional office, where the assistant commissioner will be based, is in Galway.
He pointed out that past issues in Baelieboro Garda Station, where whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe was based, illustrated the need to have “appropriate supervision” locally, but said they were now moving authority “further and further away”.
Independent councillor for Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Pat English said it would take the “best part of three hours” to drive from his town to Ennis, the new headquarters of the amalgamated Clare-Tipperary division, citing the “deplorable” state of the roads.
Cllr English, a member of the Tipperary Joint Policing Committee, said the sheer size of the combined division would make it “unworkable”.
He also expressed serious concerns for the future of the four existing superintendents in Tipperary, with that number expected to halve under the new divisional model.
He stressed that Clonmel, the biggest town in Tipperary with 18,500 people and another 23,000 in the hinterland, needed its own superintendent.
Cllr English said that the Clonmel drug unit used to have four detectives, but now had only one.