THE 100 garda station closures announced by government last year are to take place by the end of this month, according to senior garda sources.
It had previously been thought the closures would be spread over a much longer period but divisional chief superintendents have been told the closures should be completed this month.
The move was strongly criticised by Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins yesterday, who said that, on the back of cuts to the scheme to provide personal alarms for isolated elderly, the Government was acting in a "callous" way to vulnerable people living in rural areas.
Mr Collins accused the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter of "being totally divorced from the reality of life in rural Ireland".
He said the minister was living "in his own little Pale", and added: "He says that none of the station closures and the incredibly cruel cut to the Senior Alert Scheme will have an impact on the lives of vulnerable people. It is patently not the case and he is totally divorced from the reality of life in Ireland.
"This is further proof of this Government's warehousing of services from policing, schools, post offices into big towns and the removal of services from smaller communities. Burglaries and particularly aggravated burglaries are on the increase. The reality is the minister needs to step outside the Pale to see this."
The station closures and the €1.15m cut to the scheme – a cut of around 50 per cent of the total funding to provide elderly people with personal alarms – come amid increasing levels of home-invasion burglaries by gangs travelling around the country.
Gardai have identified several of the gangs, who are from both the Travelling and settled communities. One of the most active is a west Dublin-based Traveller gang who have been detected by gardai in almost every country of Ireland and who were responsible for a campaign of home invasion and burglary along the entire western seaboard, robbing up to 20 homes a day.
Mr Collins said: "These senseless cuts are taking place at a time of increasing anxiety and fear over the escalating burglary problem in this country. Instead of addressing this problem, the Government has gone in the other direction completely and has pursued measures that undermine the safety of vulnerable elderly homeowners.
"This is a direct threat to the independence, safety and security of older people. The Senior Alert Scheme helps to fund the purchase of monitored personal alarms, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, external security lights and internal emergency lights, which are extremely important in the event of power cuts."
The original scheme had distributed more than €18m in grants to 1,189 community groups between 2004 and 2010.