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Smaller garda stations face the axe as govt cuts to bone

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 12th December, 2012 4:57pm

Smaller garda stations face the axe as govt cuts to bone

Isn't it wonderful to see normality returning North of the border?

Nightly riots, six or seven policemen and women injured daily, an MP has her life threatened, the policewoman guarding her house has a petrol bomb thrown into her car, a children's city centre parade in support of a heart condition charity has to be cancelled because of fear of violence, politicians throwing insults at each other - and all because the city council decided that the union flag would be flown over City Hall in Belfast on 17 designated days each year.

It's uplifting to come across a community with its priorities set in stone. No deviation from the normal there. What better cause can one pursue than to decide when a piece of cloth with colours on it can be run up the flagpole. I stand in awe at the absolute unwavering loyalty of these people to their cause.

Meanwhile, 'down here' we indulge ourselves in trivialities like cuts in respite grants and children's allowances.

Excuse my touch of cynicism. Really, if the Northern situation wasn't so serious, we could allow ourselves a great donkey laugh.

'Down here', we are well on our way to closing down rural Ireland. Three of the great community structures in Ireland - the post office, the bank and the pub - are under serious threat. The banks have long retreated from the countryside, post offices are closing daily, and 1,000 pubs have closed in the last five years.

What is next? It looks like the garda stations. The outstanding institution which gave people living in country areas some semblance of security is facing the axe.

We can understand the need to ensure that our public institutions are examined for their effectiveness and their use to the community.

And no single institution can be immune from reform based on a factual and logical approach. In the latest round of cuts, 100 garda stations throughout the country are to be closed down in what Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has described as the most radical restructuring in the history of the State.

Meath has not escaped the swing of the axe and we are faced with the closure of Kilmessan and Crossakiel Garda Stations in the New Year, much to the distress of one community and bemusement in another.

It seems the person/persons who compiled the list of stations to be closed failed to visit Crossakiel in person. If they had, they would have found that the station has been closed for at least two years and this rural area of north Meath is now served from Kells.

It is easy to take on board the genuine fears of a community when a police station is closed. In the case of Kilmessan, it has been pointed out by a community leader there that when the garda station was closed for a period of time two years ago, there was a marked increase in crime.

Some rural communities have seen an increase in population during the boom years. Many of them are no longer the tranquil rural idyll they once were.

The influx of outsiders has brought its own problems and some of these smaller villages are reporting increased levels of antisocial behaviour.

We're great people 'down here' for giving lip services to our favourite causes. Just before the general election in 2007, the then Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (the word 'rural' has interestingly disappeared from the title of the current minister, although the word community has been retained) suggested a rural transport scheme to accommodate rural pubs.

Eamon " Cuiv indicated that the government planned to introduce measures before the general election to counter the demise of rural pubs and suggested that extending the hours of the existing rural transport scheme might be a solution to the problem which had affected rural dwellers and pub-owners since the introduction of random breath testing.

What happened since? Nothing. We can expect the same result from any expression of local communities' fears about the closure of local garda stations.

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