Belfast Telegraph

Officers slam plan to shut stations

Further Garda station closures will reduce the force's ability to fight crime throughout the country, grassroots officers have warned.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) will demand Justice Minister Alan Shatter reverse planned cost-cutting measures. The organisation which represents rank-and-file members is meeting for its annual conference in Athlone, Co Westmeath, and Mr Shatter is expected to attend on Tuesday.

Damien McCarthy, GRA president, said the Government plan to close more stations next year is ill-thought out and will hit crime-fighting.

He said: "We are concerned that gardai will not be in a position to continue the first-class service that the public deserve and what our members are committed to achieving. This policy is unnecessary and will not provide significant savings for the exchequer - so this conference will be urging the minister to reconsider before irreparable damage is done."

Earlier this month, Mr Shatter shocked the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors annual conference by announcing a second wave of station closures next year. Delegates were already reeling over the decision taken late last year to shut down 39 stations around the country.

Mr McCarthy said there is a palpable fear of crime in both urban and rural areas, and the presence of local gardai is vital to protect the vulnerable and reassure the public.

"The recent increases in burglary have spread the fear of crime, particularly among the most vulnerable," he said, ahead of the two-day conference. "The stress particularly affects the elderly and those living alone in rural Ireland."

Mr McCarthy also said international experience shows crime increases as police numbers decrease, police morale dips and economic recessions take grip. The Garda has had no new recruits for three years and retirements are continuing "unabated", he added.

A lack of basic policing tools such as effective patrol cars was also impacting on the ability of officers to provide a proper service, he said.

The conference will hear calls for action to boost rank-and-file Garda morale, against a backdrop of pay cuts and stalled promotion opportunities. Concerns will also be raised about the ability of the legal system to protect officers from vicious assault as well as issues regarding the sentencing of convicted criminals.

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