EVEN though the credibility of crime statistics, long massaged by gardaí to give a false impression of their efficiency, must still come with a health warning, yesterday’s figures showing a significant rise in assaults, burglaries, frauds and murder threats — up by 52% — puts the news that just €4,000 was saved by closing each of 139 Garda stations over recent years in a chilling but surreal, almost vaudeville, light.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald confirmed, when she answered a Dáil question posed by Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, that the closure of 139 stations saved a pathetic sum — a miserable €556,000 per annum. That’s about enough to buy one three-bed house in Dartland Dublin or fund a straightforward and very brief high court drama.
Communities, especially rural communities and the elderly people living alone in them, who have felt betrayed since their local station was closed in a cost-cutting sweep will be astounded that their sense of security, their entitlement to the pro-active protection of the State was denied them for a sum as paltry as €4,000. Their anger at this abandonment — despite occasional long-range garda expeditions from towns in the near distance — would be entirely justified.
However, the most significant cost of these closures is not monetary.
The closure of a Garda station — or bank, or post office, or school — in a small town or village is often the tipping over of a decisive domino in a the long and almost silent hollowing out of rural Ireland. That this process should be exacerbated by the State for such an utterly irrelevant figure is a terrible indictment of all involved. It seems to be mismanagement at a spectacular level. After all the savings anticipated must have been clearly established before the cull began — or were they? If they were known to be so very irrelevant why were so many community-sustaining stations closed? For €4,000? If the savings were not known then we are in the grip of an utterly careless administration making things up as they go along.
Whatever the answer to that question is, Government candidates hoping to make up the next Dail will need to know it before their general election campaigns get into fifth gear. It would be very interesting to hear how a candidate might stand over closing a local station to save a figure that would hardly take a small family to Disneyland for two or three days.
The minister’s confirmation is likely, or at least it should, lead to some lively exchanges within Fine Gael and Labour too. Backbenchers, and some senior figures as well, will want to know why the job of geting re-elected has been made so much more difficult than it already was by a very questionable decision taken by their colleagues in Government.
This Government has shot itself in the foot again but this morning the only important question must be when are these stations going to be reopened? Even if that U-turn was to cost ten times the miserable savings made by closing them it would be an investment that communities all around the country deserve and need.
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