Belfast Telegraph

Minister hits back at garda leaders

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has branded grassroots garda leaders as alarmist and irresponsible after he was denounced as soft on crime.

In a blistering broadside on his record, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said Mr Shatter had failed to make any significant impact during more than a year in office.

Directly addressing him at its annual conference, GRA president Damien McCarthy, said rank and file gardai felt betrayed and angered by the minister's shortcomings.

"So far, you have been soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime, and soft on the proceeds of crime," he said.

Mr McCarthy, outgoing leader of the organisation, which represents more than 11,000 officers, also accused Mr Shatter of overseeing the force's withdrawal from the heart of the community.

But Mr Shatter, who took to the podium to respond, launched a defence of his own achievements, and attacked some of the GRA leadership for devaluing the work of the force. "Let me tell you, sir, I am hard on crime, be it white-collar crime or any other sort of crime," he said.

Later, Mr Shatter said the allegations levelled at him were not credible, given official crime figures showed a drop in most offences last year, apart from burglary.

Mr Shatter said conference delegates occasionally do not approach things in a rational and considered way, and hit out at "alarmist and irresponsible" claims that the force is being dismantled. At one point during his address, the minister was briefly jeered when he suggested morale in the force was not as bad as the GRA was making out.

On the shutting down of garda stations under austerity measures, Mr McCarthy rejected claims that improved communications, technology and transport safely allowed for the closures: "Let me tell you Minister - if a house is being burgled, the gardai cannot teleport to your assistance, the gardai cannot police from a remote location by satellite, criminals cannot be apprehended by Skype - and we can't email armed response."

Mr Shatter said there is no definite figure on the number of garda station closures to be announced in a second wave, expected next year, after 39 earmarked closures this year. But he said an interesting comparison over the issue can be made with Northern Ireland, where 160 PSNI stations in 2000 had been slashed to just over 80, with more expected in the coming years.

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