Consultation on closure of rural garda stations

I BELIEVE Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte was correct recently to raise concerns about the possible closure of rural garda stations.

As a result of the Strategic Management Initiative (SMI) review of the Garda Siochána, it is recommended that no Garda superintendent would manage more than 70 or 90 gardaí. This would result in the downgrading of stations from district headquarters status (where superintendents, known as district officers, are located) to station status.

District headquarters stations provide a 24-hour service and this change could result in a reduction of hours and consequent adjustment in staff numbers. This proposal would result in a reduction of between 20 and 32 superintendents working as district officers. Population demographics would dictate that these reductions occur in rural areas.

Under the Garda Siochána Bill 2004 the Garda commissioner will be required to prepare an annual policing plan, and this will include proposals at Section 21 (1) to

(b) alter the boundaries of garda regions or divisions

(c) establish or relocate divisional (chief superintendent) or district (superintendent) headquarters

(d) “open a Garda station in a new location or cease stationing members in an existing location.”

It is obvious that the bill is providing for the implementation of the proposals in the final SMI report to Government, which has not been published.

The Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, stated recently that he has no plans to close rural Garda stations. He has announced proposals to close urban Garda stations.

The same surveys and studies were carried out in respect of rural Garda stations. Any reasonable interpretation would lead to the assumption that the same outcome would result. Consequently, I think we can expect decisions to “cease stationing members at existing locations,” i.e. closure of rural as well as urban Garda stations.

Change is necessary in the interests of efficiency. Consultation has taken place with all Garda associations throughout the SMI process. As the new bill provides for district policing committees, would the minister not be better off admitting that certain rural stations may close and deal with them by consultation as he has done with the Garda associations?

Joe Staunton,

General Secretary (retired),

Association of Garda Superintendents,

Castlebar,

Co Mayo.

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