FG's glaring omission on garda stations
Published 31/03/2016 | 02:30
It has been said that statistics can be as hard to swallow as they are to digest.
Perhaps nowhere is this more true, then when dealing with crime figures. Earlier this year Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald found herself on the back foot having claimed on national radio that burglaries had dropped since 2014, despite statistics showing a year-on-year rise. At the time she was accused of being in a state of denial. Yesterday, the CSO published national figures on crime which showed a slight dip in burglaries (from 27,635 in 2014, to 26,246 in 2015). Nothing to shout about; and certainly nothing to vindicate the disastrous "thinking" that informed the decision to close 131 Garda stations since 2011. Even as the CSO was revealing its figures, in another part of the forest, Fine Gael was unveiling a five-page document on crime prevention and justice. This was circulated to Independent deputies at the talks aimed at forming a government.
The glaring omission of a commitment to revisit the station closures - a redline issue for many backbench TDs under pressure from constituents concerned about their vulnerability in the face of predatory gangs from the city - betrays a surprising lack of political nous. This is difficult to fathom given Fine Gael's traditional pride in its stance as the party of law and order.
But then again maybe this is not so surprising given Ms Fitzgerald's steadfast defence of the shutting down of the stations. She is on record as saying that gardaí were now making better use of technology and instead of having a station, a single garda could be made responsible for a particular area. This was less than reassuring for vulnerable people living in remote areas who felt that they were being targeted to such an extent that they were arming themselves. Yet instead of recognising its error and reintroducing the reassuring presence of a garda station, the party is offering new rapid response units and an investment in CCTV cameras along the road. While it is reassuring that many categories of crime declined last year, most notably murder; the rise of serious sexual assaults and gun crime suggest that there are few grounds for satisfaction, and none at all for complacency.