THE Government has put auctioneers in place ahead of the historical sale of some of the country's closed garda stations.
Up to 40 stations will be put on the market this year, with the first official sale expected in the coming months.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter signalled the closure of 137 garda stations two years ago as part of severe budget cutbacks.
The stations have been transferred to the Office of Public Works (OPW) -- which has now put in place auctioneers to oversee the sale of up to 40 premises.
The Irish Independent understands that the stations will be put on the market in groups in the coming months. The state agency does not have an estimate for how much will be made from the sale.
However, the junior minister with responsibility for the OPW Brian Hayes insisted last night that he wants to continue to hand over stations to community groups.
"We have 12 handed back to community groups around the country and there are another 16 in the pipeline," Mr Hayes said.
"There are 11 that have been handed back to other state agencies -- between local authorities or whatever -- and the remainder we will have to manage because there's not particularly much interest in buying them," he added.
The majority of the stations closed are in rural areas in counties such as Clare, Leitrim, Roscommon, Tipperary and Cavan. In Leinster, the OPW is looking to sell seven stations in counties Wexford, Meath, and Longford. Some four stations could be sold in Cork, while a further two stations will be put up for sale in Donegal.
The vacant Whitehall garda station in north Dublin is due to be occupied next year by the Office of the State Coroner and the State Pathology Service.
The OPW handed over the former Ballymote garda station in Sligo for community purposes in November.
The building is being leased to the Ballymote Tidy Towns and Tourism organisation and will be opened as an art gallery and tourist office.
However, Mr Hayes emphasised that further stations will be made available if the OPW receives valid expressions of interest.
"We're working it (garda station sales) through, but I've kept saying that I want the OPW to hand them back if anyone wants to take them on. It makes sense that we, as a state, would hand them back with a long-term lease."
The minister said he did not expect it to be easy to sell the whole tranche of 40 stations, particularly those located in rural areas. The news that the Government was pursuing the sale of garda stations sparked outrage during the summer.
Opposition TDs labelled the closure of stations as a "attack" on rural Ireland, arguing that it would lead to a spate of burglaries.
Niall O'Connor, Political Correspondent