Shutting 100 garda stations 'won't save a cent'
THE Government has been warned that closing 100 garda stations will not save any money because garda numbers will remain the same and the vacant buildings will need to be maintained.
Government TDs in rural areas are under increasing pressure as communities kick back at the closures announced in last week's Budget.
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has called on the Government to provide details of the savings that can be achieved by the controversial closures, which have caused outrage nationwide.
A campaign has begun in Justice Minister Alan Shatter's Dublin South constituency to save a station there that has been earmarked for closure.
Mr Shatter has said the closure of the stations would lead to "small cash savings, mainly on maintenance and utilities", but added that saving money was not the "primary objective".
He said the consolidation of stations was taking place to ensure "the more efficient deployment of garda members so that a more effective policing service can be delivered in the areas concerned".
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan announced the plans for the consolidation of districts and stations, saying the "extremely difficult financial environment" required "making difficult decisions and hard strategic choices".
But opposition to the plans is growing among politicians, business owners, community groups and victims of crime.
GRA president John Parker last night told the Irish Independent that the closure of 100 stations, mostly in rural areas, would not save the force a cent.
He said: "We've continuously said there's no cost savings, and they have to basically face that fact."
Mr Parker added that "there's no extra release of manpower" and "it's all smoke and mirrors, really, to say that they're freeing up people".
He argued that vacant stations will still cost money as they will have to be kept secure and in good repair.
"Some stations cost around €2,500 for basic heating, lighting, electricity and other services for the year," he said.
"Realistically, to maintain the buildings in good condition you'd want to be leaving the heating on, you'd want to be visiting them to make sure they're okay and secure.
"We saw with the Army barracks closing that it cost as much to mind them as it had when they were open on a daily basis."
Many of the garda stations scheduled for closure will not be suitable for sale as they are basic with "an office, toilet and cleaning facilities", said Mr Parker.
Government TDs who returned to their communities at the weekend were bombarded with appeals for stations to be saved.
Galway East will bear the brunt of the closures in that county, with nine stations to close.
Local Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton Jnr said many of his constituents had contacted him to complain about the closures.
He said he was concerned at the number of garda stations that will be lost, and he would be taking those concerns to Mr Shatter.
The closures will not exclusively affect rural areas – Cork will be left with only one 24-hour station and parts of Dublin will lose their permanent garda presence.
The proposed closure of Stepaside garda station in Mr Shatter's constituency has sparked protests from local business owners and community leaders.
Postmaster Des Kennedy, who was the victim of an armed robbery four years ago, called the plans a "reckless decision" and a "major security concern".
He said: "It makes running a business very difficult, and there's a lot of local residents who feel very vulnerable."
Labour councillor Lettie McCarthy said she opposed the Stepaside closure because "this isn't the tiny sleepy village it was years ago".
She said the garda station covered a built-up area with a growing population as well as a large rural area in the Dublin mountains. She said the decision to shut the station was "complete and utter madness".