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Gardaí launch safer communities campaign as stations face the chop

Community groups have said that the possible closure of 200 Garda stations will leave older people feeling “more vulnerable and isolated than ever before”.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Gareth Chaney/Photocall Ireland

Updated 4.30pm

AN GARDA SIOCHÁNA has named the details of its eighth Supporting Safer Communities campaign – on the same day that it was announced that 200 garda stations around Ireland could be closed.

The campaign, which runs from Tuesday 20 to Tuesday 27 September, will primarily focus on burglary prevention and road safety, particularly targeted response by the gardaí to burglary “regarding locations, times, offenders and victims”.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said the campaign “offers an opportunity to actively engage and work with all sections of the community”.

Crime prevention and road safety are everybody’s business. Working together we can all play a part in making our communities and roads safer for everyone.

The news comes as Active Retirement Ireland (ARI) and other groups express their concern about the possible closures of 200 garda stations nationwide. ARI said it would leave older people “feeling more vulnerable and isolated than ever before”.

Maureen Kavanagh, Chief Executive Officer of ARI said:

The older people’s strategy published by An Garda Síochána in 2010 contained a commitment to increasing trust and confidence amongst older people and lessening their fear of crime.  It also committed to responding to the needs of older people on an ongoing basis. Any widespread closure of stations would clearly fly in the face of such commitments.
We know from our members that a major concern is the situation in rural areas, where – even as things are at present – Garda stations are often left unmanned, and no answer is forthcoming when people try to report an incident.  Closing such stations altogether would leave older people feeling less secure than ever before.

Last month, RTÉ’s Prime Time programme showed that retirements could leave stations without permanent gardaí, with more than 10 per cent of stations left without a permanent sergeant, according to a confidential report.

Mark McCollum works with older people in Donegal as co-ordinator of Voice of Older People Donegal, an independent county-wide network of groups and organisations.

He told TheJournal.ie that he is extremely concerned about the possible closure of 24 garda stations in the county, which he says are hugely important to local communities.

It would be extremely concerning given the rural nature of Donegal and there is a fear among members of the older community with the erosion of services like that.

He said that he questioned what signals it sends out to criminal elements given that the closure of stations would mean response times will be affected.

It’s extremely worrying. Hopefully it isn’t passed fully and we’d be calling for it to be reexamined.  Donegal is largely rural areas, very remote with a lot of pensinsulas – this is the last thing that is needed.

He said that in the case of some areas, the closure would mean there would be no gardaí around “except in the main town which could be 10 – 15 miles away – for anybody to know that no matter what is going on, that is very disconcerting”.

McCollum described it as an issue for members of all ages within the community, but explained:

Particularly for older people who are living on their own in rural areas, it’s sending out the completely wrong signal. They are looking for more reassurance and security and we have a responsibility to protect and defend the vulnerable members of our community and we are being negligent in that.

He described it as a “reactionary cut” and a “false economy” that is not going to save money in the long run. “It reinforces the sense of unfairness that people are not being treated equally,” said McCollum.

He said that while the garda reserve force, community policing and citizen’s community alert could be used, “it’s no substitute” for gardaí, and that the lack of a local garda station can reinforce the social isolation that some people feel.

What is going to replace that vacuum – are they going to try to have the urban centres pick up the slack or do more patrols? It’s always going to be a second best service.
Hopefully this won’t lead to an invasion on people’s homes or attacks on the person. It’s going to cause a lot of distress.

McCollum added: “If people perceive themselves as being more vulnerable, then that is the reality for them. That will create more nervousness and vulnerability.”

Mayor Gerry McMonagle of Letterkenny Town Council said that the embargo on recruiting gardaí needs to be lifted in order to deal with this situation.

There is a problem with cross-border criminality in Donegal and more than likely some of the stations that will be closing are those on the border. Sinn Fein been involved in a number of initatives such as getting community alert up and running – that is OK but the general public can’t deal with crime, they need the gardaí.

“It is short sighted – it is those most vulnerable who are going to suffer,” he said. “I’m sure criminals will rub their hands in glee; they are not going to miss this opportunity. They are going to go into an area where there is no garda presence.”

He added that with the loss of retired gardaí, “they are losing an awful lot of experience”. “What’s left of the Garda force would be very inexperienced at the minute and wouldn’t have a lot of local knowledge.”

Mayor McMonagle said that those concerned should protest their local TDs and write to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, to say they deserve equal treatment.

An Garda Siochána released a statement today saying that no decision had yet been made on the closure of any Garda stations.

It said its budget “is under constant review and facing further reductions” and that it needs to meet its obligations under the EU/IMF structural support terms and stay within its allocated funding while continuing to provide an effective and professional service to the community.

The Garda Commissioner has tasked a small group to examine our overall operational effectiveness and resilience and recommend where further savings and efficiencies can be achieved. In order to ensure that this is a meaningful exercise all Garda resources and all aspects of Garda expenditure will be subject to rigorous examination.
No decisions have been made at this point.The examination is covering the broad range of policing activity and resources including courts, escorts, protection posts, station opening hours, training, contracts/procurement, civilianisation and specialisation and partnerships with other agencies to enhance overall efficiency in the justice system.

Read: Retirements could leave stations without permanent garda – report>

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