Modernising Garda services
The proposed closure of 100 Garda stations and a halving of the number of Garda administrative districts represent the most ambitious restructuring of policing services since the foundation of the State. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter insists these changes are not about saving money and policing services will improve. Local communities are not convinced, however, while the representative bodies of gardaí, sergeants and inspectors are opposed.
Already this year, 38 Garda stations have closed. The sky has not fallen and crime levels have remained subdued. Recent figures have shown a decrease in headline crimes. But burglaries have risen sharply. Those burglaries have, however, been concentrated in densely populated areas that are unlikely to be affected by the proposed restructuring – though rural crime under this heading, including aggravated burglary, is an issue in some divisions.
The Garda Síochána has undergone significant internal reform in recent years. New disciplinary structures have been put in place, along with a Garda Inspectorate and a Garda Ombudsman Commission. Changing the administrative and physical layout of the organisation was an obvious next step.
Local knowledge is a vital component in successful policing. Older people, in particular, are comforted by the notion that a friendly guard may be readily available. In cities, foot patrols are highly effective in minimising crime. The closure of stations will, according to Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, free members of the force from desk-bound jobs and increase Garda visibility and patrol hours.
Modernisation should be welcomed. The number of police barracks has remained practically unaltered since the days of the RIC. Politicians regarded their local stations in much the same light as post offices and hospitals – high-profile community services where any threatened closure cost votes. Through the decades, successive governments allowed buildings and services to deteriorate. As a result almost 300 stations now lack basic communications facilities, have neither fax nor broadband and need extensive refurbishment.
Rather than kick the can farther down the road, this Government has opted for radical restructuring. In their report to the last government, Colm McCarthy and his expert group recommended the closure of 350 Garda stations in response to the economic crisis. Nothing was done. Financial circumstances are now driving the reform agenda.
Closures should, however, be handled sensitively. Investment in additional patrol cars and services will be required to reassure affected communities. Gardaí do a good job. After doctors and judges, they are the most trusted group of individuals in society. They can adapt to these changes.