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'They're just broken': The reality of border policing in a depleted force

Each border county has seen a significant drop in garda numbers in the last five years, and the officers on the ground are feeling the effects.

Source: Julien Behal/PA

JUST OVER TWO weeks after the killing of Garda Tony Golden in Omeath, county Louth, discussions around An Garda Síochána all centre on resources.

In Garda Golden’s district of Dundalk, the commissioner herself acknowledged there was a shortage of officers and moved 27 gardaí from other parts of the country to Louth in response. The Emergency Response Unit was also deployed to the border to carry out checkpoints.

Though garda resourcing is the hot topic of the moment, it is nothing new for the gardaí stationed in border counties. Since the recruitment embargo in 2008, they have been feeling the effects of the severe depletion in their districts.

“It was two-fold when they introduced the embargo because there was also an increase in special units,”explained Robbie Peelo, Louth division representative for the Garda Representative Association (GRA).

“So, when they set up the likes of immigration units, traffic units, beefed up drugs and crime units, they did that by taking gardaí from the pool of regular units.

The numbers we had to answer calls were dwindling all the time. With long term sickness as well, it could end up that you’ve the same five or six people that are burdened with all the work for six days in a row.”

Source: Statista

In the last five years alone numbers in the Louth division have dropped from 257 to 221.

It’s just not sustainable. After being out all day and night you then have court files to get done, all that back office stuff. You’re trying to do paperwork at four or five in the morning and if it gets thrown out of court everyone is slating you but under that much pressure you’re going to make mistakes. You’re writing all this up with the radio on in the background in case something happens and you have to run out to it.

Peelo said increasing garda numbers have been shown to have a significant impact on both crime and morale in other divisions. In the Dundalk district, however, real change will also mean transferring gardaí who have been there during the hard times elsewhere.

Psychologically they have to get away from here, they’re just broken. We’ve to factor that in.

“We’re currently meeting with senior garda management in garda headquarters in order to seek adequate resources again,” he said.

Historical issues

Gardaí from other divisions have been moved into Louth temporarily to help address the shortage, but Cavan/Monaghan GRA representative James Morrisroe recently told TheJournal.ie that most have come from his division – the most depleted in the force.

Over the last five years, numbers in Cavan have fallen from 157 to 128. In Monaghan, there are now 48 less gardaí than there were in 2010.

Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Morrisroe said the gardaí he represents are still dealing with “huge historical issues in relation to South Armagh” as well as the serious fuel laundering problem.

He’s concerned about the decision to move 16 officers from his division to Louth, accusing garda management of “begging off Peter to pay Paul”.

Isolated

In Donegal, members of An Garda Síochana have been left feeling “isolated” as they are operating in such a large area in such low numbers, according to Donegal representative Brendan O’Conor.

“Because of the dip in numbers, members are being pulled from smaller stations to bigger stations to cover the cars. In many cases, those stations are border stations,” he explained.

O’Connor’s division has experienced a significant drop in garda numbers – down more than 60 officers since 2010. 

The district in Donegal that is most depleted is Buncrana. In some of the suburbs of the city of Derry the border is not recognised. We’ve got border crime like other areas, but it’s city crime being policed with a rural policing model. Dissident republicans are active in Derry. There have been a number of high profile bombs and mortars intercepted and our members are just a few miles from that, without access to adequate backup.

He said the depletion in numbers, as well as the removal of the Uzi submachine gun left gardaí feeling vulnerable.

“It’s a long barrelled weapon and it was visible at checkpoints – it was a deterrent. We used to have a member trained in the Uzi in every district.”

On top of the typical border crime, gardaí in these areas also deal with a significant amount of public order incidents.

“Lots of people are coming to socialise here because of the currency rate. In places like Bundoran, there’s an influx of people at weekends,” O’Connor said. “We have huge public order issues and have lost six public order vans in Donegal.”

In Louth, large groups of stags and hens also flood towns like Carlingford at the weekends to party it up.

Recruitment

Writing in The Irish Times this morning, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he wants to see the establishment of a new cross-border taskforce to tackle organised crime.

Involvement in violence and intimidation, large-scale smuggling operations, fuel-laundering, drug-dealing and extortion are destroying lives on both sides of the Border. This cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.

This year, 99 new gardaí graduated from Templemore, with ten being sent to border counties.

As part of this year’s Budget, the government promised an additional 600 recruits would be taken into the training college next year. However, even if recruitment continues at these levels, it could be another five years before the force is back to its pre-recession strength.

Read: Rank and file gardaí overwhelmingly reject new public pay deal>

Read: Majority of gardaí moved to Dundalk are from most depleted division>

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