Shatter set to allow closure of 200 rural garda stations
The Government looks set to approve the closure of up to 200 rural garda stations and limit the opening hours of many town and city stations.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter is to receive a report from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who has asked divisional chief superintendents across the country for their views on how to rationalise the number of stations. It is expected that as many as 200 of the country's 700 garda stations will close.
The issue has been before various governments for decades but has always been fudged as successive governments gave way to local political pressure, particularly from rural TDs who have been lobbied by their public and by garda interest groups.
The problem of maintaining the 24-hour stations is most acute in the Dublin Metropolitan Area where, on paper, 47 stations have to be kept open 24 hours a day to serve a population of 1.5 million. This compares with other metropolitan police forces such as that in Toronto, which only has three stations open after 10pm to service a population of 2.3 million.
The other important issue in terms of rationalising garda services will be a restructuring of the shift work done by gardai and the form-filling work at stations. The shift rotas in Dublin are to be changed to improve allocation of policing resources to when they are most needed. At present the old three-relief rota system means that the same number of gardai are on duty at 6am on a Monday as there are at 11pm on a Friday -- when most disorder takes place. As most crime is committed in daylight hours there will be an emphasis on having more gardai on duty then as opposed to the middle of the night in weekdays when the least crime is committed. Proposals to alter the three-relief shift system have been on the books for more than 20 years, but were never implemented.
Form filling at stations is also likely to be addressed in light of recommendations by the garda inspectorate, headed by former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole, who found that the majority of people calling to garda stations were for the purpose of obtaining and filling forms from passports to vehicle licensing.
Mr Shatter's most prickly decision, however, is likely to be facing the issue of closing small rural stations. This issue has been around for many decades but it is now expected that up to 200 small stations will be closed across the country. The proposal, yet to be decided, is already raising political hackles around the country. There are 240 "one-man" rural stations in areas with the lowest crime rates in the country.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Shatter said: "I don't have the commissioner's report yet. But I think there is an inevitability that there's going to be some changes to ensure that we don't waste resources and that there's greater effectiveness.
"We've operated so far on the basis that garda stations in most urban areas are open 24/7 and the footfall of them after 10 o'clock at night, for example, is very small. We don't need to keep certain stations open so someone who suddenly remembers to do it can get their passport signed at 11 o'clock at night instead of sometime between seven in the morning and 10 o'clock at night. So I think that these are areas, I mean I don't have this report yet, but I think these are areas which the garda commissioner is looking at.
"And I think that he is also looking at some of the very small rural stations where instead of having gardai pinned down to keep a two-person station open, they would be better in a patrol car without having to just man a station that gets very little footfall. So there are areas like this that are being looked at because I can't pretend to have resources."
Officially, the Garda Representative Association, with its 12,000 members of garda rank, is opposed to station closures, but GRA sources have indicated that now may well be the time to finally address the issue.