Why I agree that hundreds of our garda stations have to be closed

WE need to close more garda stations. Hundreds of them.

There's no two ways about it.

There are 703 in this small country that are no longer needed, as Justice Minister Alan Shatter pointed out this week. Many date back to a bygone era of policing when communications were poor and police depended on horses and bicycles to get around.

Leaving them open constitutes an unjustifiable waste of public money.

A handful of the stations earmarked for closure are in Dublin but many of others are in rural backwaters and are often operated by a single garda, who is often only on duty for an hour or two a few days a week.

In many places, for 90pc of the time, the station is locked and bolted.

Shutting them would represent a massive saving in upkeep costs for buildings that are, in many cases, crumbling. Mr Shatter pointed out that some of them could be used by the community or the "justice sector". I'd be wary about sending the public into some of these places, which barely have a roof on them at this stage.

Many of these buildings date back to before 1922 and owe their existence to a bygone colonial era, where the police and military used them to keep control of what they saw as a rebellious and ungovernable people.

Most of the small rural stations were built to placate local landlords, who insisted on a police presence to protect their estates and lives during troubled agrarian times.


Close them. Each and every one should be shut, despite the well-meaning protests of gardai and local communities.

There's been plenty of protest, of course. Mid-ranking officers came out loudly against the plan this week. The Justice Minister caused a furore at the AGSI conference when he addressed delegates and announced the closure next year of more garda stations.

AGSI president Padraic Dolan echoed the mood of the delegates when he slammed the decision as a disgrace.

Dolan's anger is understandable at one level. He's expressing the anger of his members, mid-ranking garda who see station closures as just another slap-in-the-face cutback.

But he's missing the point.

Gardai should be fighting for a trade-off from the Government.

They should insist that the remaining garda stations are first class, state-of-the-art facilities fitted out with the most modern communications.

The remaining savings from closing the buildings should also be invested in transport for the force.

Some of the garda cars on our streets are so battered that officers would be better advised going back to the 19th century and getting on horseback.

Bad enough forcing our police to ride in battered old jalopies, but to ask them to work in rundown ruins is too much.

I never thought I'd say it but the minister is right. These stations must be closed.