RESIDENTS OF Kiltealy have responded to Justice Minister Alan Shatter's decision to close their Garda station by taking a Community Alert initiative. One meeting has already been held to consider signing up to a local text service which will allow members of the public alert their neighbours to the presence of suspicious vehicles in the area and to alert the Gardaí to unusual activity.
It is expected that the texting scheme will be formally adopted at a meeting called by curate Father Fintan Morris for Thursday, December 13. At least 60 residents have already indicated that they are ready to register. For €10 per head, subscribers will be connected to a central phone from which warnings and notices will be circulated.
One of the pioneers of Community Alert texting was Ballywilliam, also in the foothills of the Blackstairs, from where it is spreading fast in areas remote from Garda stations. The service has proven popular in neighbouring Ballindaggin and Killanne who have already adopted it.
'We all have to work together,' explained Clonroche based Sergeant Tom Murphy who has urged Kiltealy to sign up for the initiative which makes use of the near universal presence of mobile phones. 'It is very cheap and effective, a fantastic system.'
The move has the backing of Muintir na Tire who have assigned Bree native Margaret Quinn to promote Community Alert texting.
' There is a lot of negative feeling here in Kiltealy over the fact that the station will be closed,' said one farmer from the area who insisted: ' there is a need for it and people are disappointed. It might have been a deterrent to thieves. They would certainly prefer to see it open.'
Having a dedicated Garda presence in the area contributed to peace of mind, suggested the countryside dweller. The station on the doorstep also offered a practical service in the distribution of many forms but now members of the public will have no choice but to travel to Bunclody, Enniscorthy or some other barracks further afield.
The doomed Kiltealy station is one of the more modern rural outposts in the Garda Síochána network. It was constructed in the late 1970s as a replacement for nearby Killanne.
Among the responsibilities that fell to Kiltealy was a requirement to keep an eye on the communications mast that sits atop Mount Leinster, as well as keeping an ear to the ground for crime.
The principal role of the Gardaí based there was 'someone to talk to' as one former occupant of the Kiltealy station put it after news of Minster Shatter's decision was confirmed.
The first officer into Kiltealy Garda station at the beginning of 1977 was Tom Murphy, since retired. He was joined by Sergeant Eamonn Doherty who left shortly afterwards to take up a post in his native Donegal. Sergeant Doherty was replaced by Sergeant Tom Miller who went on to become a mentor with the successful Duffry Rovers football team.
The station became a one man operation after Sergeant Miller moved to Enniscorthy, with Garda Murphy succeeded in turn by John O'Leary, Paul White, Tom Dunphy and Denis O'Sullivan who retired a few months ago.
The move means that there is now no station remaining open along the stretch of hilly terrain from New Ross to Bunclody, to the regret of retired Garda, Tom Murphy: 'Local policing as we know it will be gone,' he lamented after it became public knowledge that the door of the Kiltealy station where he once worked will be closed for good. He was concerned that the tradition of people knowing their Garda on first name terms will be extinct.
'We policed the country with the people, not for the people. That association is lost and I feel so sad.'