THIRTY-ONE Garda stations are to close, while a further 10 will operate on reduced opening hours, under cost-saving plans announced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
The minister said his department had to contribute to the overall reduction in public expenditure.
He said the closures came as part of a wider review of the justice sector and argued that modern policing did not require "a bricks and mortar presence in every locality".
The minister confirmed areas across the country would be affected, but he said communities worried about the cuts would continue to receive a professional policing service.
Mr Shatter said: "It is my priority to see that frontline policing services are maintained as far as possible, even at a time of reduced resources.
"The number of closures being announced today is very small compared to the 703 Garda stations listed throughout the country which include 47 stations in Dublin.
"These are very high figures by international standards, and they have hardly changed since the foundation of the state, despite the huge advances in transport, communications and technology in recent years.
"I expect that there will be further rationalisation of Garda services in the years ahead.
"Modern policing is not simply about a bricks and mortar presence in every locality, but the delivery of a professional service to every community using all the modern capacities of An Garda Siochana."
Mr Shatter said he welcomed the budget allocation of €2.2bn he had received, but he noted that it represented a reduction of slightly over €100 million on last year.
The minister added: "The dreadful financial legacy inherited from the previous government requires all of us to make difficult decisions and, like all other areas of public expenditure, there is no magic formula for generating money for the justice area."
The 31 Garda stations which are to be closed in 2012 are:
In the Dublin Metropolitan Region they are Rush, Whitehall, Dalkey and Harcourt Terrace.
In the Western Region the stations for closure are Corrandulla in Galway. Glenisland, Tourmakeady, Mulranny and Bellacorrik in Mayo. Loughglynn and Cootehall in Roscommon/Longford. Carrigaholt in Clare.
In the Southern Region stations will close in Shanagolden and Doon in Limerick. Glenville in Cork North. Knocknagree, Ballyfeard, Goleen and Inchigeela in Cork West. Ballylongford, Moyvane and An Clochan in Kerry.
In the Northern Regions stations will close in Clontibret and Smithborough in Monaghan. Tullyvin in Cavan. Culdaff and Dunkineely in Donegal. Kiltyclogher, Bunnanadden and Drumkeeran in Sligo/Leitrim.
In the South Eastern Region a station will close in Baldwinstown, Wexford.
The minister said eight stations which he said are already non-operational and which will not reopen are: Castletownsend and Ballygurteen in Cork West; Ballinure and Ballinderry in Tipperary; Ballywilliam in Wexford; Doochary in Donegal; Geashill in Laois/Offaly and Tarmonbarry in Roscommon/Longford.
Public opening hours will be reduced in Dublin Metropolitan Region stations in: Cabinteely, Stepaside, Kill O' the Grange, Sundrive, Terenure, Cabra, Malahide, Santry, Howth, and Donnybrook.
The stations' 24-hour service will end, with the venues closed to the public between 10pm and 8am.
Mr Shatter said: "An Garda Siochana, like all public service agencies, must introduce new efficiencies so as to make the best possible use of available resources.
"This will mean focusing resources on frontline operational services. In some cases it will mean using a different model for delivering a policing service to a local community, through a rationalisation of Garda stations and revised patterns of patrols.
"Similar rationalisation of police stations commenced some years ago in Northern Ireland and last week it was reported that the Policing Board were considering proposals to close 34 out of 83 stations as part of a cost-cutting plan by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland)."
He said of the closures: "I want to assure people living in the areas close to and served by those stations that the Garda Siochana is committed to continuing to provide the most professional and effective policing service possible to them."
Mr Shatter said the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Forensic Science Laboratory will see funding maintained at 2011 levels.
He said that despite the reduction in the capital budget for the Prison Service, he was satisfied that the funding provided will allow for the completion of building works in the Midlands Prison and the Dochas Centre in Dublin to provide more than 370 additional prison spaces in 2012.