Louth/Meath garda division is needed
The Drogheda City Status Group (DCSG) has called on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to urgently reconsider the proposal to have Louth and Meath separated into two proposed new Divisions, with Louth being grouped with Cavan and Monaghan, while the plan envisages Meath being grouped with Westmeath.
"Louth and Meath have a combined population of almost 325,000 and are both growing rapidly. In addition, Drogheda is on track to become Ireland's next city and with a 2016 population of 52,828 by now is larger than Waterford City which then had a population of 53,504 and is growing at a slower pace. Drogheda by 2050 could be the third largest city in Ireland. Ahead of that, it needs to play a key role in the planned Garda Divisional restructure" said Anna McKenna, Chairperson of the Drogheda City Status Group.
The City Status Group point out that in recent years, prior to the current structure and during "The Troubles," policing was managed through a Louth-Meath Garda Division and ran very successfully from the then Divisional HQ in Drogheda.
"With Drogheda soon to become Ireland's next city and the first in the North-East, it would be completely illogical to ignore a structure that worked successfully in the past and appears to be the perfect solution in any current rationalising of Garda Divisions," said Anna, who also mentioned how more and more arms of the State recognise the logic in grouping Louth and Meath together when providing State services, such as the Louth-Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) and the HSE. More recently Louth and Meath County Councils are collaborating on projects in the Greater Drogheda area.
"All of this is compatible with the over-arching plan, "Ireland 2040," and the Regional outputs arising from it, but the proposed Garda Divisional carve up goes against this national plan and will create difficulties for both businesses and residents in the Louth-Meath region" said Anna.
Commenting on the proposal to have Louth grouped with Cavan and Monaghan, Ms. McKenna stated that Louth and Meath are a much more compatible grouping as they have a more densely populated and urban profile compared to Cavan and Monaghan. Furthermore, she said that there is a very significant population critical mass to justify a Louth-Meath Division, as their combined populations of 325,000 are more than double the 137,000 combined population of Cavan and Monaghan.
The City Status Group are calling for three initiatives to be included in the new Garda management arrangements - that the Louth-Meath Division be reinstated; that its HQ be located in Drogheda, the former Louth-Meath Divisional HQ (and current HQ for the Louth Division) and that staffing levels in Drogheda and outlying stations in East Meath and South Louth be reviewed, as well as opening hours in those outlying stations. "Of course the resourcing of Garda stations right across Louth and Meath should be reviewed, but our focus is mainly directed at the Greater Drogheda area," added Anna, who even cited examples of difficulties with Drogheda and East Meath being separated under the current structure.
"In one instance witnesses to an attempted armed robbery at a fast food outlet on the south side barely one mile from Drogheda Garda Station, but in Co.Meath, were advised to contact Laytown Garda Station - which currently only opens to the public for a few hours a week. This has to change as the population of Laytown-Bettystown-Mornington has grown enormously in recent years.
Earlier this year, DCSG had observed that Drogheda's Garda numbers did not reflect the size of Ireland's sixth largest urban centre, They pointed out that when assessing the sufficiency of Garda numbers in Drogheda, it is usual to draw comparisons with Dundalk. However, they maintain that this is an incorrect comparator, because Dundalk-Blackrock, with a population of 39,004 in the 2016 census, is much smaller than Drogheda which has a population of 52,828 including the local environs of Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington.
"It's clear from this that the real comparator is actually with Waterford City which has a population of 53,504 - similar to Drogheda and its immediate hinterland in Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington," said Anna McKenna at that time. According to Garda statistics as of the 31st March, 2019, Waterford, including Ferrybank, had 172 Gardai, 34 sergeants, 5 inspectors, 1 superintendent and chief superintendent, a total of 213 Officers.
In contrast Drogheda and Laytown only had 129 Officers, comprised of 107 Gardai, 17 sergeants, 3 inspectors, and 1 superintendent and chief superintendent, while Dundalk-Blackrock, a smaller town had 154 Officers comprised of 127 Gardai, 21 Sergeants, 5 Inspectors and one superintendent.
The group has called on business and community groups across Louth and Meath to engage the Garda Commissioner and their political representatives to secure a Louth-Meath Division in the new Garda management structure.