For over 90 years, the image of a garda in the local station was part and parcel of community life in the county. From this year, on a new “policing philosophy” will commence in Ireland, and to allow for this five Leitrim garda stations had to close their doors for the final time on January 31.
Communities in Dromod, Dromahair, Cloone, Glenfarne and Keshcarrigan turned out to mark the huge occasion last Thursday and the mood varied from anger to disappointment to sadness. People from each of the areas expressed annoyance at the station closures, but hoped that the new policing plan would work and that they could continue to have a positive relationship with their local gardai.
According to An Garda Siochana, the revised structures will continue to support community policing philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs. The centralisation of services will facilitate the introduction of an enhanced grid patrolling system that will be operational and intelligence led. This patrol system will ensure that a high visibility and community oriented policing service continues to be delivered throughout the country. The plan is promising increased Garda visibility and patrol hours, increased mobility and flexibility, enhanced co-ordination of Garda activity, more effective use of limited resources across a wider area and continued Garda presence locally.
Minister of State Kathleen Lynch said the Garda Commissioner found that “resources could be better deployed by closing some Garda stations and reducing the public opening hours of others at off-peak times which in turn have released Gardaí for operational duties.” She said, “Prior to the closures which took place last year, the Garda station network was essentially the same as the Royal Irish Constabulary network in 1922. Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate in the present day, where the transport and communications infrastructure have been transformed beyond recognition. The Garda Síochána have a class-leading police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system, and a transport fleet which is currently receiving significant investment. The new Garda roster currently being piloted provides a better match between Garda availability and policing demand. All of these developments enable the Garda Síochána to be more mobile and flexible, and to deliver a more effective policing service.”
However, Leitrim Sinn Fein TD Michael Colreavy condemned the closure of local Garda stations. Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Colreavy said, “I don’t believe I need to remind people of the number of high profile burglaries that have taken place in the north-west. My own constituency of Sligo/North Leitrim is a rural area, with many places being sparsely populated. Many of my constituents are frightened of what the closure of the local Garda station will mean for them. Every person in this country has the right to enjoy the comfort of safety, a safety that is protected by the knowledge that there is a member of the Gardaí in the local area, and can be contacted in the case of an emergency. The closure of these Garda stations has removed that sense of security.” He concluded by saying, “The minister, by ordering these closures, has put our communities at risk.”
West Cavan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith said, “It makes absolutely no sense to remove the Garda presence from our communities on such a large scale at a time when the rate of burglaries has increased. The presence of a local Garda station, however small, acts as a deterrent to criminals who target vulnerable households.” Coming from the border region, Deputy Smith said “I know from when I was a youngster of the value of local knowledge to the Garda during the difficult era when paramilitaries were creating havoc in the province of Ulster. Many gardaí worked beyond the call of duty to ensure that vulnerable young people who were not getting the necessary support at home were kept out of the clutches of paramilitaries. This came about through local knowledge and through the network of Garda stations. That is the type of preventative action that we should never underestimate.”
The campaigning rural organisation, “Glór na Tuaithe” are encouraging people to support the protest marches planned for February 9.