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COMMENT: Reopening Garda stations is just a start

Monday, 19th June, 2017 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
COMMENT: Reopening Garda stations is just a start
COMMENT: Reopening Garda stations is just a start

SHANE Ross was a happy man last week – and with good reason. As Enda Kenny’s reign as Taoiseach drew to a close, the Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism finally secured one of his key conditions for entering Government – the reopening of a Garda station in his constituency.

Not that there wasn’t merit in Minister Ross campaigning for Stepaside Garda Station to be reopened. Its closure in 2013 was met with outrage from local residents and businesses who quite rightly voiced concern about the upsurge in crime that followed the short-sighted decision.

For all the spin about the ‘smart policing’ alternatives, the simple fact is that communities felt exposed without the physical presence of a Garda station.

After the economic crash, more than 100 Garda stations across the country closed their doors under savage Fine Gael/Labour cuts. 

It was a major issue in last year’s general election, as many former TDs will attest. Any Government perceived to be soft on crime will inevitably suffer the wrath of the electorate. Former Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, who represented Stepaside and presided over the closure of his local Garda station, was among the casualties.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was asked by the Government to review the feasibility of reopening a number of Garda stations and last week she presented her interim report. Stepaside is likely to be joined by Rush in North County Dublin, along with two other stations in Wicklow and Carlow, when the commissioner releases her final report at the end of June.

Two new Garda stations are also proposed for Dublin Airport and Dublin Port. In the face of increased threats to our national security posed by terrorism, this would appear to be a prudent measure.

Politically, the controversial closure of the Garda stations has proved to be the least of the Government’s worries. The credibility of the Garda Siochana has been shaken to its core by scandal after scandal, from the penalty points fiasco to the falsification of breath test figures and allegations of a smear campaign against whistleblowers. 

There’s little doubt there are many decent, hardworking, dedicated gardaí who are as appalled as the rest of us by the goings-on. It can be a thankless, dangerous job; their day to day tasks hampered by under-funded Garda divisions.

With shocking acts of violence being carried out on our streets due to the ongoing gangland feud, never before have we needed a properly functioning police force so badly.

The reopening of a handful of Garda stations needs to be more than just a token gesture. That means assigning each station enough cars and manpower to allow effective response times to crimes and longer opening hours. A part-time station is about as effective as no station at all.

Unless the decision to reopen Garda stations is underpinned by proper resources, it will be perceived by the public as a cynical measure designed to appease a minister whose support is vital to the survival of the Government.  

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