80 garda stations to be shut and replaced by 'clinics'
AS MANY as 80 garda stations nationwide are set to be shut down before the end of the year.
In many places where stations are boarded up, gardai will open occasional clinics in the likes of parish halls instead.
The closures are likely to cause deep anxiety in the areas affected across the State.
The final figure of closures will be at least double the number of barracks closed in the past year. The decision comes as the garda authorities put the final touches to a new policing model aimed at making full use of reduced resources.
They will be replaced by "clinics" manned by a garda for a couple of hours, two days a week.
Senior officers reviewed proposals for reform at a conference chaired by Commissioner Martin Callinan.
The two-day conclave of officers, from the rank of chief superintendent upwards, ended yesterday at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary.
Garda "clinics" will be established in towns and villages where the local station is on the closure list. They will be installed in parish halls or community buildings and manned by a garda for a couple of hours, two days a week.
The garda will use the clinic to sort out personal problems for residents, who need application forms for passports or driving licences signed, and other minor administrative duties.
The local garda, who will be transferred from the village to a bigger station because of the closure, will remain a point of contact there for residents, with the support of other personnel.
The closed stations will be handed back to the Office of Public Works and, as a temporary measure, could be used for clinics while their future is being determined.
Many of the stations are likely to be converted into buildings for public use, in consultation with representatives of the communities.
A key part of the new policing model will be the utilisation of the 170 new patrol vehicles, which are being purchased with additional funding provided by the Government and are due to be sent out on the streets early in the new year.
The extra patrols will boost the size of the depleted fleet but the overall number of patrol cars will still remain below the levels reached a few years ago.
It is also intended to make greater use of social media and local radio stations to provide crime prevention advice to the community.
Commissioner Callinan is expected to complete his list of recommended stations for closure by the end of next month and this will then be submitted to Justice Minister Alan Shatter for his approval before it is brought to Cabinet for a final decision.
The list is being drawn up following a review of each division by local chief superintendents. Up to the end of last year, the State had a network of 702 garda stations, although a number of them were already closed or in use for only an hour or two a week.
Last December a total of 39 stations were shut and Mr Shatter signalled that further closures would be implemented in 2012.
The full extent of the latest planned closures became evident last night and the Irish Independent learned that the final figure is likely to be at least double the previous hitlist.
Yesterday's conference in Templemore was told the aim was to produce a policing service that was all about people and how they served the community rather than about buildings.
"It is our intention to create a new policing service that at least equals the service provided in the past and, hopefully, improves on that," one senior officer said afterwards.
Meanwhile, Justice Department secretary general Brian Purcell told the Dail public accounts committee yesterday that a lot of the stations existed since before Ireland secured its independence and that many were no longer needed.
"The evolution of policing since then means you don't need as many stations," he added.