Part of 'heart of town' will be lost, say Stepaside locals

Stepaside residents and traders oppose the closure of the local Garda station. From left, Paolo Borza; Jean Dermody; Canon David Moynan; Frank Mulvey, Des Kennedy; Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott; Cllr Lettie McCarthy; peace commissioner Bob Gahan; John McCluskey; and Joseph Lee. photograph: cyril byrne

Stepaside residents and traders oppose the closure of the local Garda station. From left, Paolo Borza; Jean Dermody; Canon David Moynan; Frank Mulvey, Des Kennedy; Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott; Cllr Lettie McCarthy; peace commissioner Bob Gahan; John McCluskey; and Joseph Lee. photograph: cyril byrne

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

Bella Cullen describes Stepaside as “a sleepy town” because the only light she sees after dark is that of the local Garda station.

She is 87, has lived in Stepaside all her life, and has just trudged to the town centre from her nearby home to voice her feelings about the station’s looming closure.

“I’m shocked beyond words,” she says. “I had a great relationship with that barracks. It’s a hell of a time because I live on my own – going to bed at night, locking this and that, going back down to make sure it’s really locked.

“It’s a deterrent and there’s always a light on at the station so I could ring down if I were worried about anything.”

There was an air of communal solidarity about Stepaside yesterday afternoon, as locals gathered in the square opposite the Garda station to voice their opposition at the announcement of its closure.

There were posters dotted around the place and a petition in the local shop had attracted more than 3,000 signatures.

‘Afraid’

Ms Cullen said she was on first-name terms with each of the station’s 34 gardaí. “I always had a great relationship with every one of them in there,” she said.

“We don’t cost the country anything and this is what we get after paying taxes all our lives. You’re afraid to go to bed at night, and every sound you’re listening out for. “God knows I’m 87, I thought I’d have a bit of peace in my last few days.”

Dr Brendan MacEvoy (70) lives on the outskirts of Kilternan, and said there were people living around him who were “terrified” because of the isolation.

“They ring me every time they hear a noise. I’m called out nearly every second night and I go up to see if they’re okay because I have dogs. If I see anything suspicious, I ring down to the gardaí and they’re straight up to look around.”

The local postmaster, Des Kennedy, who also runs the local shop, said the entire area was concerned about the closure. “There are people living in isolated pockets here that only local gardaí would know how to get to.”

Joe Elliott, lead singer of British rock band Def Leppard, lives in the area and said it was “criminal” that the station was facing closure. “If something goes wrong and there is an emergency, Dundrum may as well be on the other side of the world.”

‘Heart of town’

Church of Ireland Rev Canon David Moynan said “part of the heart of the town will be lost” if the station closes. “We will be vulnerable in this place.

“I’ve been in places where there is no Garda presence and they become no-go areas – that is the fear.”

Bob Gahan (82), who has lived in the area for 40 years, said there was “a psychological aspect” attached to not having a Garda sign hanging in the town.

“When I first came here, the sergeant lived in the station and grew his vegetables in the garden next door – so a lot has changed since then. This is going to take a lot of getting used to.”