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Thursday 21 August 2014

Not one of 95 garda stations shut down last year has been sold

Greg Harkin

Published 10/03/2014 | 02:30

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Sean Duane, Christy Corcoran and Fr Martin McNamara outside Kiltullagh Garda station, Athenry, Co Galway.
Sean Duane, Christy Corcoran and Fr Martin McNamara outside Kiltullagh Garda station, Athenry, Co Galway.

Not a single garda station of the 95 closed more than a year ago has been sold, and as little as €3,000 was saved in closing each one of them.

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Rank and file officers have warned that the decision is now destroying the 'community police force' of An Garda Siochana.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter sold the idea of the station closures as a cost-cutting exercise which would free up extra policing hours.

But rank and file officers said the cost of the closures had hit local communities. The financial savings were small, senior garda sources said.

An average rural station costs between €3,000 and €5,000 per year to run for water rates, electricity and telephone lines, according to one retired garda.

EFFICIENT

"The water rates were around €200 a year for smaller stations. The electricity and telephone bills came in around the same and there was the odd bit of maintenance, but that was it," said the former officer.

The Department of Justice, however, said it is counting the closures against extra policing hours.

A spokesman for Alan Shatter insisted: "It must be stressed that the key objective of the station closures has been to promote the more efficient deployment of resources, rather than to secure cash savings.

"In this context, the commissioner concluded that garda resources could be better deployed on the frontline if particular stations no longer had to be staffed and maintained."

He acknowledged that "some small amounts of money have been saved – estimated at approximately €3,000 to €5,000 per small rural garda station" – but said: "The real difference involved has been the more effective allocation of resources for policing duties.

"In that regard, the commissioner has indicated that the closure of stations has led to a significantly increased availability of gardai for operational policing."

He said revised policing arrangements resulted in an additional 61,000 operational policing hours in 2013, added that there are still 564 garda stations in the State.

However John Parker, president of the Garda Representative Association, said: "The building of a community takes years – and so does its dismantling – and the effects are accruing. The immediate effects of closures have been the transferring out of the gardai and the associated loss of the local knowledge.

"This has resulted in the slowing of the flow of information from the community to gardai. The community – and mainly the elderly – are feeling less secure."

He said it was still "too early" to tell of the overall implications of garda station closures.

"There have been stories in the news of shops and businesses being raided – and the owners have commented on the closure of local garda stations," said Mr Parker.

"But in the longer term, young people who would have got to know their local garda, will no longer have this personal contact."

Junior Minister Brian Hayes, whose Office of Public Works is handling the disposal of the garda stations, said 40 will be sold this year. The first seven will go under the hammer at auctions later this month.

COMMUNITY

Prices are not being released for commercial reasons at this stage but it is understood the Government is hoping to raise more than €5m.

And 15 others have been earmarked for community groups across the State, with Mr Hayes telling the Irish Independent: "We're hoping to give more away."

Mr Hayes insists the process of garda station disposals will benefit communities who wish to develop them.

"I am very pleased with the interest shown by groups from all parts of Ireland on the use of former garda stations," he told the Irish Independent.

"Throughout 2013 and this year, I have seen tremendous community spirit and enterprise from groups in Kerry, Sligo, Roscommon and Mayo to name a few. The range of activities these groups plan to undertake in the former stations are an example to us all."

A garda spokesman also insisted the reduction in stations had not affected policing.

"Senior garda management is satisfied that a comprehensive policing service continues to be delivered and that current structures in place meet the requirement to deliver an effective and efficient policing service to the community.

"This situation will be kept under review," he said.

Irish Independent

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