Local stations not accurate measure of Garda strength
Reassuring presence: those concerned about safety in rural areas need to be told the risks of victimisation are low, not terrified by stories of violence. photograph: julien behal
OPINION:High intensity of police centres is a legacy of British rule. We must move from counting to overall efficiency
Any discussion of the number of Garda stations in Ireland should begin with a recognition that the country has an exceptionally high number of police stations, even with the recent closures.
We will retain more than 550 stations for a population of about 4.5 million. Scotland with a population of 5.2 million has 300 police stations and it was announced in late 2012 that a number of these are to close.
The London Metropolitan Police has 136 police stations for a population of more than eight million. New Zealand has a population of 4.4 million and has just over 400 police stations. Sweden now uses mobile police stations to attend areas which have higher crime rates on certain days of the week.
It is worth noting that the McCarthy report of 2008 recommended that half of the Garda stations be closed. The Government action on this issue has not come close to that. Of course, all this establishes is that we have a high number of stations, not whether it is appropriate or otherwise to have so many.
There are two reasons why there are so many Garda stations. First, when organised policing came to rural Ireland in the early decades of the 19th century it was imposed by a colonial power.
The primary concern of this colonial power was not to prevent crime or detect criminals. It was to prevent disorder and agitation. Having police in every nook and cranny not only enabled any such agitation to be stamped out before it gathered momentum, but it also enabled the gathering of information about residents in all areas of the country.
Eyes and ears of Britain
The Royal Irish Constabulary, as the force became known after it defeated a Fenian uprising in 1867, was the eyes and ears of Britain on the ground in Ireland.
In 1922, as part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, it was agreed that the RIC had become so hated that its retention was untenable. While the Dublin Metropolitan Police could remain, the RIC would have to be replaced. Michael Collins established a committee given the task of organising a new police force for the rest of the country, outside of Dublin. In creating the Civic Guard, which later merged with the Dublin Metropolitan Police to become the Garda Síochána, that committee retained a model of policing very similar to the RIC.
Those appointed to the committee to draft proposals for the new force had mostly served in the RIC, an inevitability given that no one in Ireland had any other policing experience. Those men believed that in times of peace the RIC had, in fact, managed to maintain positive relations with the community and that in the newly independent Ireland this model of policing might function well.
Further, given the divisive nature of the treaty and the fear of Civil War, it is not entirely implausible that Collins wanted police spread so broadly for precisely the same reasons that the British had: to stamp out trouble and gather intelligence on those who opposed the treaty.