Saturday 24 March 2018

Rural garda stations next for the chop

THE KNIVES are out for rural Garda stations and there need be little doubt that it won't be long now before we hear of proposals to add to the list of previous closures as the Government searches for every possible means of cutting costs.

The latest threat comes on the back of what might be termed 'a national crime shortage' as reported in figures released last week by the Central Statistics Office. According to the CSO, 80 per cent of Garda stations recorded one or less crimes per day last year. Over a third (41 per cent) of garda stations report only a single crime per week.

At any other time it would be a cause for celebration to learn of the citizenry's outstandingly law abiding nature. Surely there can be few countries in the civilised world where police stations are such havens of peace and tranquillity. Sadly though, the CSO statistics will be no cause for joy among rural Gardaí. Instead of patting themselves on the back for doing such a good job maintaining law and order they'll be wondering if they are going to be the next for the chopping block.

Over the past year the Government has closed down 39 Garda stations. Most have been in rural areas; some have been in operation since the foundation of the state and were regarded as part of the fabric of the communities they served. Now these rural garda stations are gone because they have been deemed surplus to requirements and people in country areas feel less safe as a result.

More closures will soon follow. Justice Minister Alan Shatter has already asked Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to draw up a list of stations that might be closed next year. It must be a soul-destroying task for the Garda Commissioner, but costs have to be cut and then there is the not insignificant matter of the IMF demanding that Garda numbers be cut from the present level of 13,567 to 13,000 by the end of 2014.

One would have to accept that there is a certain logic to the whole process. There's no point in paying for gardaí and garda stations that we do not need. By the same token, there's not much need for an army in a state that has never gone to war, nor for that matter an army of politicians who do little to justify their existence. But that's another matter.

The issue really with Minister Shatter's plan for closing garda stations isn't about whether it makes economic sense; it's about how it will make people feel. Regardless of CSO statistics, right now there are elderly people in rural areas around the county and the country who don't feel safe and secure in their own homes and who wonder what has happened to the Ireland where people never had to give a thought to locking their doors.

Rural garda stations and the regular presence of Gardaí in rural areas helps give these people the sense of security they are entitled to enjoy. This comes at a cost but, as a society we a willing to pay this price because we place a moral value on helping those who are weak and vulnerable. It is a great pity that Minister Shatter must now put a monetary value on depriving vulnerable, elderly people of a garda service that makes them feel safer.