News Analysis

Thursday 18 September 2014

Ultan Sherlock: Local presence can give communities a sense of security that is beyond price

Published 10/12/2012 | 17:00

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WHEN Stepaside garda station first opened in 1932, it was an isolated rural area with a very small population of farmers and tradesmen.

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A garda sergeant and two or three gardai were stationed there on a live-in basis.

Fast forward to 2012 and the population of Stepaside and its environs has exploded to 20,000.

It covers vast areas of newly-built houses and huge industrial estates. It includes the Carrickmines and Leopardstown shopping centres, as well as the villages of Stepaside, Glencullen and Sandyford and the British Ambassador's residence.

The area we serve straddles rural, urban and industrial areas and continues to grow.

And yet, inexplicably, the garda station in Stepaside is now suddenly earmarked for closure, at a time when logic dictates that a garda presence is needed most.

Last year Stepaside garda station tragically hit the headlines when Garda Ciaran Jones (25) was killed off duty.

Raging Liffey waters threatened to collapse the Ballysmuttan Bridge near his County Wicklow home – but he didn't think twice about warning oncoming motorists of the dangers.

A member of the force for about four years, Garda Jones was pulled into the river while trying to come to the aid of a motorist.

When we lost him last year, a large number of people called to the station and left flowers. They knew him because he was a local garda – he was "their" garda.

All across Ireland, there are communities who also feel they have their own local garda who they can turn to in times of need.

And yet dozens of towns and villages are reeling at the latest round of closures. Some 39 garda stations have already been closed this year as part of the Government-imposed austerity measures. More are to be shut in a fresh phase of closures next year.

People rely on us. Our station provides a full-time 24-hour garda presence and the cost of providing this valuable service to the local community is modest.

We provide peace of mind and the knowledge that a garda can be at the scene of an incident at two or four minutes, at most.

But the princely savings that will be achieved by ending this service come to just €300 a week.

Nobody can deny that this, spread among a population of 20,000 is very, very cheap, – but it is a priceless asset to an area.

Our station is just one example of the larger picture throughout the country.

Worst affected are garda divisions along the western seaboard including Galway, Sligo-Leitrim, Kerry, Clare, Limerick and Donegal.

The Garda Representative Association has said the changes are being imposed without proper public consultation and will have a negative effect on the quality of the police service.

These cuts are coming at a time when garda resources are already stretched, numbers are reducing and we are operating with an inadequate car fleet.

In years to come, people will look back and say, "what on earth were they thinking".

Areas will become become vulnerable to crime and local knowledge will be lost.

No matter how well-intentioned management are, they cannot possibly hope to provide anything close to the same service that we are able to provide to communities at the moment.

Meanwhile, gardai from these closing stations will be redistributed to stations that are too full already, so there will be no accommodation for them.

The Government speaks of the new policing model as being the "consolidation of services" – they aren't closing stations – they are merely consolidating them.

But for this to happen properly, you have to provide purpose-built police stations – but this has not been done.

Closing garda stations will ultimately cost the taxpayer money because crime figures will rise – it is only logical to predict that this will happen.

No date has been set yet for closures but it is expected to happen some time during the summer.

In the meantime, I respectfully appeal to common sense to reverse this plan that can only do untold harm to vulnerable communities around the country.

• Ultan Sherlock is a detective garda and a member of the Garda Representative Association national executive, working and living in Stepaside.

Irish Independent

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