ONE of the country's oldest garda stations, which is located alongside an estate where a notorious gang is based, will close its doors for the final time this week.
Mary Street garda station in Limerick city has been serving the communities surrounding King's Island since the formation of the State in 1922. Prior to that, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was based there.
In recent times, the station has fallen into disrepair and officers used prefabricated buildings. The station is one of 95 scheduled to close across the country on Thursday, with Mary Street's officers moving a few miles away to Mayorstone garda station.
An information meeting with senior gardai was held for residents at St Mary's Community Centre yesterday.
Mary and Thomas Ryan, both aged 67, said they were very sad to see their local garda station close.
"There was a bit of security here with it – now what do we have?" Mrs Ryan said.
Over the last decade, St Mary's Park has suffered from gangland violence and criminality. The area is home to the Keane-Collopy criminal gang, but successful garda investigations have resulted in numerous prosecutions, and many gang members are now in jail.
Chief Supt David Sheahan attempted to reassure residents. "I do not want this place to go back to anything like what it was in the bad old days," he explained.
"I have given reassurances both through regeneration meetings and through joint policing committees that it is my intention to maintain the level of community guards in St Mary's Park that we have now and going forward."
Six years ago, John Fitzgerald – who drew up a regeneration plan for Limerick's deprived areas – recommended that 100 extra officers be deployed to the region. However, since 2011, Limerick has lost 40 garda members, who have not been replaced.
Chief Supt Sheahan added: "When we did get the extra guards and put them in the area here and built up relationships, it had a huge positive impact, not only from a policing perspective but also from a social perspective.
"Unfortunately, we can no longer afford to have a garda station or a guard serving one place. We have to centralise some resources in order to provide a better service. All we are effectively doing is moving the administration from one place to another."