GARDA Commissioner Martin Callinan has promised rural communities that the policing services provided in their areas will not be reduced by the next phase of garda station closures.
He is completing his list of recommendations on the proposed closures and is expected to hand it to Justice Minister Alan Shatter by the end of the month. Last month the Irish Independent disclosed that about 80 stations would be shut down in the new year.
A total of 39 stations have already been shut this year, out of a nationwide total of 700.
Mr Callinan said yesterday that he and his senior advisers could understand the sensitivities involved and the fear of people living in rural areas.
The fallout from the closures had dominated the agenda at the recent half-yearly meeting of senior officers at the Garda College in Templemore.
They intended to ensure that the level of service provided after the closures would be at least equal to what was there previously, if not better, he added.
Confirming that there would be more closures, Mr Callinan said the garda authorities were very conscious of the local feelings and needs and they did not intend to lose their bases amid those communities.
He said the emphasis would be on people rather than buildings with the prime aim of providing a visible presence on the streets of towns and cities and in rural locations.
The force did not intend to lose its relationship with the public and would continue to provide any assistance or receive any information that was being offered.
The gardai had proven in the past that the information would be treated confidentially and he appealed to the public to play their part in ensuring the links between them and the force would not be broken.
Their job, he said, was to ensure that whatever policing services were there at present would, at least, be maintained, if not bettered.
Last month it was reported that where stations were due to be shut down, gardai would be available for a few hours a week in public buildings or mobile vans to hand out advice or deal with administrative issues such as signing passport forms.
The new policing service for an affected area will be manned by gardai operating out of district headquarters with designated officers on call to deal with specific communities.
Gardai also intend to make greater use of mobile patrols as a result of an expansion of the garda fleet.