THREE rural communities that put up strong campaigns against the closure of their local garda stations are now to be handed back the keys.
The former garda barracks at Beaufort and Ballinskelligs in Co Kerry and in Dromahair, Co Leitrim, are to be developed by the communities in a lease arrangement with the Office of Public Works (OPW).
The Junior Minister with responsibility for the OPW, Brian Hayes, will formally hand the keys over in Co Leitrim this week and in Kerry next week.
The barracks were among the 95 garda stations that were closed by Justice Minister Alan Shatter in January.
Strong opposition to the closures had been expressed, but in some cases, the local community already set about highlighting their plans for alternative uses for the stations.
An OPW spokesman said a number of other applications were also pending, but it was hoped that about six former garda stations in total would be handed over for community use before the end of the summer.
The leasing arrangements will run for at least five years, after which time they can be reviewed or extended.
Today, Mr Hayes will formally hand over the keys of the 'Rocket House' in Baltimore in Co Cork to the local Tidy Towns group.
The former coastguard property had been used to launch rockets to signal to ships in distress.
A heritage group in Kinsale has already submitted a planning application to develop the Signal Tower at the Old Head, another OPW-owned property.
Chairman of Beaufort Community Centre, Tim Moriarty, said while there had been a lot of resistance to the closure of the barracks, it would now be used as meeting rooms for the 18 different voluntary clubs and organisations in the area.
"We're also hoping to develop a small playground on the grounds, and maybe have a small kitchen where the parents can meet and have a cup of tea or coffee while their children play," Mr Moriarty said.
In Ballinskelligs, a local development firm has plans to convert the barracks into a heritage and tourist centre.
The chairman of Coiste Forbartha na Sceilge, Micheal O Leidhin, says the facility was badly needed in the south Kerry Gaeltacht area, which had its own distinct culture.