Gardaí to resist any further closures of stations
RANK AND file gardaí have said they are determined to resist any further closures of Garda stations and believe people in rural areas will mobilise against the plans.
The Garda Representative Association believes it has the public’s support on the issue and said the Government could not expect to close more stations next year and the year after without meeting resistance.
Speaking at the opening of the association’s annual delegate three-day conference last night in Athlone, Co Westmeath, GRA president Damien McCarthy said his members were already struggling to cope.
The force of 14,500 had been cut by 2,000 due mainly to recent early retirements, with the overall Garda budget down this year by €80 million.
Morale was at an all time low and would be exacerbated by the closure of 40 stations this year, with a further wave of closures planned for next year and possibly a third round in 2014.
“In those communities that are going to be affected, I don’t for one second believe that they are going to sit idly by and sit on their hands and let such drastic decisions be taken without any consequence. I think the public are with us on that one,” Mr McCarthy said.
He believed Minister for Justice Alan Shatter needed to be aware that the high standard of policing provided by the Garda would be compromised by the station closures and that people’s lives would be impacted, particularly in rural Ireland.
“It’s going to become perhaps a safe breeding ground for criminal activity. It’s going to contribute significantly to the fear of crime particularly amongst our senior citizens around the country.” He would use his conference address to Mr Shatter this afternoon to clearly outline the GRA’s position on station closures. The association would then await a response but was not without options in resisting stations closures.
Mr McCarthy would not be drawn on what campaigns or resistance, if any, gardaí could take part in and also would not be drawn on the possibility of a “Blue Flu” style action.
He also said the moratorium on recruitment was now having a major impact on the Garda. The force had gone through a period of expansion and significant reform in recent years yet in recent times the “professionalism and experience” of 2,000 Garda members had been lost in a short period and had not been replaced.
Promotional opportunities were very limited and even transfers into new units or positions elsewhere in the force at the same rank were also scarce.
Mr McCarthy believed the Garda force was not big enough at present to police the State, with many emergency calls for assistance, including from those people attacked violently, already going unanswered.
He said the clashes between protesters and gardaí at the Labour Party convention in Galway last weekend highlighted the need for proper Garda resourcing and also clearly demonstrated the dangers faced by frontline gardaí.
The GRA is to use its conference today and tomorrow to highlight the fact that about 700 Garda members are attacked every year while on duty.
Mr McCarthy said the association wanted the introduction of new legislation that would create a specific offence of assaulting a garda or other emergency worker such as paramedics or fire fighters.
The association believed if stiffer penalties of up to five years imprisonment were handed down this would deter those intent on taking on gardaí.
Mr McCarthy said he had raised the issue with Mr Shatter at last year’s annual conference but had not had any response. This was “extremely disappointing and worrying”.
He believed the Department of Justice viewed assaults on gardaí as “an occupational hazard”, a view that was unacceptable to the association.
Some of its members had been the victim of extreme violence, with one member of the Garda National Immigration Bureau requiring up to 30 stitches for a facial injury sustained when attacked by a foreign national during a deportation.