Shatter defends record on crime

Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 01:00

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

In a 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.

“I conclude that your appointment has so far failed to have any significant impact on policing, you have achieved no more than your predecessors,” he said.

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.

“At conferences like this people sometimes use exaggerated language,” he added.

“I don’t get too excited about these things.”

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.

Pointing to the killings of Garda Gary McLoughlin and Garda Robbie McCallion in separate road incidents in Co Donegal, Mr McCarthy said no action has been taken to reduce the threat to lives of frontline members.

“How long will you continue to gamble with the safety of gardai, and society, before you rectify this problem?” he asked, at the two-day gathering in Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Mr McCarthy also criticised what he branded the revolving door of the justice system, which he said allowed criminals to walk free before completing sentences.

“In many cases we see lenient sentences reduced because of prison overcrowding, even when the lives of gardai have been cut short,” he said.

“Our members are rightly angered and feel betrayed by your shortcomings.

“We need a minister who is tough on crime.”

The GRA president said the Fine Gael-Labour coalition had failed to establish itself as the government of law and order.

Turning again to Mr Shatter personally, he recalled remarks from the Minister while in opposition warning about “lawless badlands” because of a lack of new garda recruits.

“Yet now you are prepared to abandon areas of the country to become lawless badlands by closing down Garda stations,” he added.

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 0 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,” he said.

Mr McCarthy said garda station closures had not been properly thought out.

“Is this how you want to be remembered?” he asked.

“As the minister who encouraged the dismantling of garda stations and the creator of lawless badlands?”

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.

PA