Garda station closures in spotlight after O’Donoghue death

Reduction in rural stations leaving communities exposed to crime, campaigners claim

Closures: 140 Garda stations were closed nationwide in 2012-13. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Closures: 140 Garda stations were closed nationwide in 2012-13. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The death of 62-year-old John O’Donoghue, who suffered a heart attack after discovering intruders at his home in Doon, Co Limerick, has reignited the debate over rural Garda station closures.

Between 2012 and 2013 almost 140 Garda stations were closed nationwide. Most were rural and the majority recorded less than one crime a week in 2011, their last full year in operation.

However, the closures have been strongly criticised by rural dwellers, campaigners and TDs who feel the station closures have left communities exposed and without adequate alternative policing.

The “reconfiguration” of the Garda service has been defended by both An Garda Síochána and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, who says an additional 61,000 Garda patrol hours being made available nationwide.

However, have the closures had an impact on crime? Burglary statistics for the period since the stations closed their doors tell a mixed story.

Increase

However, compared to 2011, before the Garda stations closed, the number of burglaries and aggravated burglaries recorded last year had actually fallen (by 0.4 per cent and 5.7 per cent respectively).

It should be noted that burglaries are thought by the Garda to be under-reported. A CSO review found about 18 per cent of crimes were not recorded on the force’s PULSEulse computer system in 2011. However, the figures were recorded prior to new systems being implemented.

Isolated

In East Limerick, 35 gardaí serve Bruff Garda District, an area the size of Co Louth, following the closure of a number of stations in the area. There have been four different superintendents based in Bruff in the past seven years, which has also given rise to concerns among the force over continuity in policing. There is currently an acting superintendent in Bruff.

“There has been no continuity in policing in the district over the past few years because just when someone is getting a handle on the area they have been moved somewhere else,” said a Garda source.

In 2012 there were four serious aggravated burglaries involving members of organised criminal gangs in the Bruff district; there have been two murders in the past six months.

“It’s an ever-increasing workload. We all want to be professional in our job and our approach and to assist the public in their time of need, but sometimes we are really up against it,” the source added. “Overall, there is good morale in the district but staff are really putting their shoulder to the wheel and we have had people come in on their rest days, to give a dig out. But it’s not a case of overtime any more; it’s just a case of lads wanting to help out.”

Last week’s burglary in Doon further highlighted the increasing concerns in the community. Bruff Garda station is the only 24-hour station in the district, and is almost 30km from Doon.

“Because of the way the Garda roster works, you could have a situation where there would be no garda in an outside station for four days,” the source said. “A patrol car might have to travel from Bruff which in the case of Doon is 30km away.”

Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman and Limerick TD, said people living in rural Ireland had been promised a replacement for rural Garda stations, which had never materialised. He said: “What that has done, effectively, and Doon is an example, is it has lowered the level of policing activity and presence in a particular area.”

Mr Collins said the Garda force needed to be brought back up to 14,000 and called on an amendment to allow for the recruitment of extra reserves.

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“The only policy that’s in place was the closing of Garda stations, which in a sense we don’t necessarily regard as the reason. But we do say that the failure to bring forward a proper plan to replace the policy on Garda stations has meant that many rural areas are effectively without cover,” he said.

“The criminal fraternity know exactly where the stations have closed and their conclusion is – and, unfortunately, this is turning out to be the case – that if the Garda station is gone, that means the presence is less.”