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Rank-and-file gardaí don't think much of their boss's stance on station closures

The Commissioner appeared before the Policing Authority for its first public session today.

THE FIRST PUBLIC meeting between the new Policing Authority and garda representatives took place today, with a focus on public trust and confidence in the force.

Trust in the new oversight body is also paramount, its chair Josephine Feehily said as she opened the meeting. It is tasked primarily with overseeing the performance of the force.

Feehily stressed today was not an investigation and the authority should not be seen as focusing principally on fault-finding.

“We want to hear about the work – seen and unseen – that the gardaí and staff of the Garda Síochána do every day to keep our communities safe.”

And this community work was what Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was keen to focus on too.

“We pride ourselves in being of the community and working for the community so the safety of the community is central to everything we do,” she told the authority.

The meeting heard a survey by An Garda Síochána found trust levels in the force were about 85% and almost three quarters of respondents said they were satisfied with the policing service.

Organised crime

O’Sullivan one of the key areas of work in communities is around drugs and she hailed the merging of the drugs and organised crime bureaus last year as a success.

“Over €36 million worth of drugs have been taken off the streets, including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and indeed cannabis,” she said.

36 firearms have also been seized, as well as a large volume of ammunition and some explosive material. The Commissioner also revealed over 200 people have been arrested as part of drugs and organised crime operations in the last year. She said these arrests have “a significant impact in a positive way on communities”.

‘Ridiculous’

When questioned about the closure of garda stations, particularly in rural areas, O’Sullivan said gardaí were focused on engagement “as opposed to bricks and mortar”. She also said closures had been compensated for with a “higher visible presence” in those areas.

This claim was contradicted by the organisation representing 10,000 of the commissioner’s rank-and-file officers this evening.

Reacting to her comments, outgoing president of the Garda Representative Association, Dermot O’Brien, said: “That’s not the experience that’s being reflected by our members.”

GRA2016_PRESS_CONF_7 GRA president Dermot O'Brien Source: Conor Ó Mearáin

He pointed out that rural crime has increased in rural areas, telling reporters ahead of the association’s annual conference that cuts in the force in recent years have made community policing very difficult.

They were discussing clinics – I mean the next thing we’ll be in post offices with the garda stamp around our neck to meet people. This is ridiculous. People don’t just come to a garda station to get their passport stamped or their driver’s licence stamped, they come to record crime, they come to report suspicious activity in their area.

O’Brien said Irish policing is all about talking to people and with the changes in the last number of years, members of the public are missing out on that vital relationship with their local garda.

The association’s acting general secretary John Healy said An Garda Síochána has effectively withdrawn from some rural areas, instead focusing resources in the bigger towns and cities.

“It’s nothing to do with the bricks and mortar, it’s the fact that a guard was assigned to your village. He knew every person, not only from the village, but that came in and out. And because the local spoke to him, he knew what was happening. He could hear the grass grow,” he said.

We’ll be reporting from this year’s GRA Annual Delegate Conference in Killarney over the next three days, so keep an eye out and follow @michellehtweet for updates.

Read: Can Ireland continue to operate without an armed police force?>

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