A shock decision by senior Garda management to end the Traffic Corps presence in Kells after 38 years is being described this week as a further blow to public services in the North Meath area.
The seven-member unit will transfer to Dunshaughlin station within days unless there is a change of heart at talks scheduled for this week. The Garda Representative Association has already protested at the move and local Fianna Fail Cllr Sean Drew has expressed his “extreme frustration and disappointment” at the news, calling it illogical to remove a service that covers 34% of Meath’s road network.
Up to this week, Meath had two dedicated traffic units at Kells (seven Gardai) and Dunshaughlin (sergeant and four members). From Tuesday of next week it will be down to one following the instruction to the Kells unit to report for duty to Dunshaughlin station. So far, the explanation given for the move is that the bulk of Meath’s population is in the South of the county but North Meath Gardai say this is insufficient reason for depriving North Meath of its own dedicated service.
It has been argued by rank-and-file gardai that all of the other counties in this Garda region will have more dedicated traffic units than Meath – Kildare (3 units), Laois/Offaly (2), Westmeath (2), Wicklow (3). Even the Wee County – Louth – with the smallest population in the country has two units of the traffic corps at Drogheda and Dundalk.
They are also submitting that Meath, with 2,342 square kilometres, comes only second to Laois/Offaly in terms of size and has four motorways running through it.
“Out of the blue we were told that both services will be located from Dunshaughlin from 24th April,” according to a member of the gardai in Meath.
“This is going to be dreadful for North Meath because I cannot see the new unit, going to places like Oldcastle or Athboy too often. It is unlikely you’ll get random breath checks in Oldcastle, Kilskyre or Athboy. These were all places targeted by the Kells unit.”
Describing the move as “symptomatic of the ongoing downgrading of Kells and North Meath”, Cllr Drew said the main responsibility of the Traffic Corps was to significantly reduce the incidence of fatal and serious injuries and improve road safety. In this context it seemed illogical to remove the service from the Kells Municipal District which has over 34% of Co Meath’s road network.
“In addition, the objective of the current Meath Road Safety Plan 2013-2020, published by Meath Co Council is to ‘save lives and prevent injuries by reducing the number and severity of collisions on its roads network’ The plan further states that the achieving of this objective is dependant on ‘the maintenance of Garda Traffic Corps strengths’. Again it would appear that the transfer of the traffic corps from Kells will dramatically reduce the Garda resources readily available to a vast area of the county that is North Meath.”
The councillor said that nationally the corps complement peaked at around 1,200 in 2009 as the then Fianna Fail-led Government attempted to reduce road fatalities. “However, Traffic Corps numbers have fallen steadily since as has the overall strength of the force. The strength of the Garda Traffic Corps has fallen from its peak of around 1,200 to 681 as of the end of September 2016.
“This reduction in numbers has impacted on rural communities disproportionately more than urban centres and is a continuing reflection of the Government’s failure to retain services and provide proper infrastructure to rural Ireland”.
He itemised the cessation of Kells District Court in 2013 (preceded by the closure of Athboy and Oldcastle courts), the closure of bank branches in North Meath, and the imminent threat to post offices, as part of a movement of downgrading which is seeing that part of the county without proper infrastructure.
“As recently as last week, in the chamber of Meath County Council, I was highly critical of the inequitable and inadequate provision of capital investment funding in the North Meath area.
“It is high time that this downgrading of the area ceased and provision is made for improved infrastructure and services for our communities in North Meath.”