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Rural policing in meltdown

Rural policing meltdown

Force threatened by recruitment embargoes and impending cutbacks

Anton McNulty

THE strategy for the policing of rural Ireland is set to drastically change. The planned closure of small rural garda stations and the retirement of a number experienced gardaí are likely to result in the serious restructuring of policing in counties like Mayo.
Chief superintendents around the country are expected to be asked to draw up a list of Garda stations that could be closed as part of budget cutbacks. Rural counties, which have a large number of one-man and part-time stations, are expected to be most affected.
The move to close rural stations comes at a time when a number of experienced gardaí, including senior officers, are set to retire before the end of February in a bid to maintain their full pensions. Any public servant who retires after that point will see their pensions reduced in line with recent public sector pay cuts. The impact of these retirements will be compounded by the fact that the retiring gardaí won’t be replaced due to the embargo on Garda recruitment.
If the planned closure of rural stations takes place, gardaí are expected to be stationed in large towns. According to Ballinrobe area councillor Damien Ryan, this would be ‘a disaster’ for rural areas. He said the number of gardaí in Mayo have ‘never been lower’, and any move to close these small stations will be resisted.
“It will be a disaster if this happens, because nobody will have a clue who the gardaí are and the gardaí won’t know who the people are … It is so important for people’s security in rural areas that they know there is a local station and a garda who they can talk to. There are a lot of people coming to live in rural areas, and rural stations are needed now more than ever,” he told The Mayo News.  “In my area, there are three or four stations which would be affected, and I will be opposing any closures,” he added.
Cllr Ryan, who is a member of the joint policing board in Mayo, said he feels policing has become ‘more about stats than getting to know the people’.
“Without doubt the removal of gardaí from rural areas will lead to more crime and vandalism. There has been an over emphasis on making sure other units, like the traffic corps, are up to standard and not enough on community policing. Policing is more than stats. It is about solving problems on the ground and rural stations are crucial to this.”
Restructuring needed
Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony said he had no direct knowledge of the closure of rural stations but expressed his opposition to any such proposal. He said policing rural areas would be very difficult if stations closed and he feels resources needed to be restructured rather than cut.
“I would encourage a restructuring of the gardaí that would see more gardaí put on front-line duty rather than office duty. It will be very difficult to police in rural areas if major changes are made to policing. Communities in rural areas have always had huge respect for the gardaí and they co-operate with them … it will be difficult if that is lost.”
Last week it was announced that Superintendent Mick Murray from Westport Garda Station was to retire. A number of other gardaí in the county are also expected to retire before the end of February in order to secure their full pensions.

Experience gap
Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council Cllr Christy Hyland told The Mayo News that too many experienced gardaí are leaving the force. Cllr Hyland – a former garda – said experience was crucial for gardaí, and he feels something should be done to ensure this knowledge that has been gained on the job is not lost.
“It is my view that there is no better college than the college of experience and right now too many experienced and relatively young gardaí are being forced to retire. A large number of gardaí feel they have no choice to go if they want to hold onto their pension entitlements. There has to be a different way because law and order is too important,” he said.
Tributes were last week paid to Supt Murray from members of Westport Town Council for his work in the town. Cllr Staunton did led the tributes, Murray saying he was very thorough in what he did and cracked down on anti-social behaviour in the town. “Superintendent Murray took on the role a couple of years ago and has done an excellent job. We had a problem with anti-social behaviour and a lot of the people reasonable for it are now behind bars,” he said.

Town manager to retire

Meanwhile, Westport Town Manager and Director of Services Joe Beirne is also set to retire before the end of February. The Roscommon native has been the County Engineer for a number of years and he replaced Peter Hynes as Westport Town Manager in 2010.