Tuesday 23 January 2018

Shatter in firing line after plan for mobile garda units scrapped

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

A proposal to replace closed garda stations with mobile "police offices", announced by Justice Minister Justice Alan Shatter at the time he closed 95 actual stations earlier this year, has been scrapped, according to garda sources.

Mr Shatter told the Dail in February that there were plans to acquire five of the mobile offices, kitted out with a public area, counter and office facilities. However, it is understood that further cuts to the garda budget this year have meant the plan has been quietly dropped.

There was no response from the Department of Justice when asked what progress if any had been made on the proposed new mobile offices.

Garda sources yesterday said the idea was a "waste of money" and a "gimmick" in response to the public anger over the closure of stations. They pointed out that for the price being mooted for the mobile offices they could have several more new cars to replace worn-out squad cars.

Seamus Boland, of Irish Rural Link, said yesterday he was not surprised to hear that the plan had been scrapped.

"The minister dismantled the rural policing network and has put nothing in its place. We asked for a meeting and he wrote to us but never met us. People who have money are installing extra security, gates and what have you. But vulnerable people living alone or even couples are not looking forward to winter.

"What is tragic is that it has become a silent fear. It is there and it is what people had warned about. They have taken away the stations and they have not come up with a plan B. There is a vacuum and people are coming together to form their own community alert programmes as there is no proper linking between communities and policing.

"We always thought these mobile clinics were nothing more than a PR stunt in response to the real concern and anger about the closures. At every meeting they are laying it heavily on Fine Gael TDs that they have done nothing for rural communities. They are very critical of Alan Shatter. It is very disturbing; we have a minister and commissioner, the management, who don't seem to be able to come up with a proper plan for rural policing."

Garda sources say that the estimated cost of kitting out five Fiat vans for use as offices, put at €110,000, would be enough to buy five new squad cars which, they say, would be much more useful.

Prior to the bulk closure of the 95 stations in January, another 48 stations were closed last year over a phased basis, attracting little attention. Mr Shatter came under sustained criticism for the bulk closure in January, which was announced on the day of the funeral of Detective Garda Adrian Donohue in Dundalk.

Anger was directed at the minister because of the surge in robberies, burglaries and aggravated burglaries in previously crime-free rural areas. Gardai have arrested dozens of men suspected of conducting multiple robberies in rural areas but all have been released on bail and, gardai say, many are found re-offending as they wait up to two years to have their cases heard.

Some gardai have advocated the introduction of electronic tagging for those suspected of involvement in multiple robberies. More than 30,000 people with criminal records or on bail in the UK are electronically tagged with ankle bracelets.

Sunday Independent

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