Kilkenny is facing into a 2013 with three fewer Garda stations in the county, and some of the stories heard at this week’s meeting of the Joint Policing Committee reveal very little faith in the ‘cut-and-shut’ approach adopted by Minster for Justice Alan Shatter.
Garda stations in Johnstown, Inistioge and Ballyragget have either closed or will be closed in the coming days. The savings generated from these closures, estimated in the low thousands, appear paltry compared to what has been lost – a basic sense of security in many communities.
Shutting down these small, rural stations – at a time when burglaries in rural areas are on the increase – seems counter-productive in the extreme. A situation has now arisen whereby motorways allow criminals to travel large distances very quickly, and target remote areas where there is little or no Garda presence.
Some of the statistics and stories from the Joint Policing Committee meeting almost beggar belief. Reports of elderly people in north Kilkenny so frightened of burglars that they are openly leaving out money, in that hope that they will not be attacked for it, are particularly depressing.
There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that, while crime levels were officially down in the county last year, many minor crimes are not being reported. People just don’t see the point.
Huge credit must nonetheless go the the rank-and-file Gardai, those men and women who patrol our streets and respond to the calls. They are not making the decisions, and simply have to cope with reduced resources, redeployment, and a host of other challenges.
Minister Shatter has attempted to justify his position by saying that these station closures will ultimately improve ‘efficiency’, but the words have rung hollow in many circles.
His coalition party colleague, Labour TD Ann Phelan has expressed her own concerns over the station closures. She says that many of her elderly constituents feel trapped in their own homes.
Likewise north Kilkenny county councillors Mary Hilda Cavanagh (Fine Gael) and Maurice Shorthall (Labour), have voiced their fears of the consequences of station closures in Ballyragget and Johnstown. Chief Supt Mick McGarry has also been forthright in his disappointment at the closures.
And the general public? It seems that so far, the only effect of the minister’s ‘efficiency’ has been to leave large swathes of people around the county feeling abandoned, isolated, and more vulnerable then ever.