A HUNDRED garda stations are to be shut down in what Justice Minister Alan Shatter has described as the most radical restructure of the network since the foundation of the State.
Public opening hours are being reduced in another seven garda stations in Cork and Dublin and 28 garda districts are being amalgamated into 14. The two biggest stations to face the axe are Stepaside in the minister's constituency in south Dublin, with 34 members, and Kill O' the Grange in Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's Dun Laoighaire constituency.
But garda districts on the western seaboard will be worst hit with Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Galway and Kerry badly affected, while the changes will also impact on Cork and Limerick cities.
A timeframe for the closures is being worked out but most of them will be closed in the first half of next year.
The announcement by Mr Shatter sparked a furious reaction from garda rank and file members and Opposition politicians last night.
Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins accused the minister of jaw-dropping cynicism by "slipping out" his announcement in the middle of the Budget speeches.
John Parker, president of the Garda Representative Association, said the decision was being imposed on communities without proper consultation. He said closure was being disguised as consolidation, while the withdrawal of gardai from rural areas was being described as rationalisation.
He said the move would remove many gardai from their communities and have a negative effect on the quality of service provided to the public.
But Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he was confident there would be no dimunition of the service provided by his force.
He said the revised structures would continue to support the community policing philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs and this would help the introduction of a new patrolling system that would be operational and intelligence led.
Mr Shatter pointed out that 98pc of the stations being closed were currently open part-time and he added:
• 94pc of stations were open for three hours or less each day, mostly in the mornings.
• 88pc were served by one garda only.
• Only 5pc were served by three or more members.
• 86 were less than 10 miles from the new station.
• 30 were five miles or less from the new station.
Following these closures, together with the 39 stations that were shut this year, there will still be 564 garda stations, compared with 703 before the programme began, Mr Shatter said.
He noted that this compared with 86 in Northern Ireland – due to be cut to fewer than 50 by the end of 2015 – and 340 in Scotland.
Mr Shatter said the Justice budget had been cut by €100m this year and faced a further cut of €62m in 2013.
A priority in the new year will be the purchase of new garda vehicles. After the latest purchases in October, an additional €5m will be set aside to upgrade and maintain the fleet.
Despite this year's closures, gardai had significant success in tackling crime and most categories recorded falling figures, including homicide, assault, robbery and public order offences.