EDITORIAL: The true level of crime in Ireland is beginning to emerge; and politicians are beginning to see that the spin emanating Shatter/Callinan era is going to haunt the coalition as we approach the upcoming election. The country was told that garda station closures would release more gardaí for frontline policing and that the 139 stations to be closed had no strategic function. The public was informed that despite the ever-diminishing number of gardaí, crime had not increased. We can all see now that attempted burglaries were being downgraded to criminal damage; so much so that the Central Statistics Office had an unprecedented period where they refused to accept and publish Garda supplied crime statistics. This is significant in the prelude to the current situation.
In rural Ireland, there has been an underlying fear of crime that passed without reflection from the political elite. Those citizens who expressed their fears were humoured with slogans such as ‘smart’ and ‘intelligence-led’ policing that would save their communities from becoming ‘criminal badlands’. Some accepted these platitudes, some remained vigilant – but now that the truth is beginning to emerge it has become apparent that certain swathes of the country were largely abandoned to ‘lip-service’ policing.
It’s not always helpful to say that ‘we told you so’; but the Association repeatedly warned that the culling of sections of the garda network by taking the local garda from the centre of the communities would have repercussions. This has come to pass.
Many in the rural communities do not have continued confidence in An Garda Síochána’s ability to protect their assets – either in livestock, machinery or personal possessions. All too easily, they have been repeatedly targeted by burglars, rustlers and criminal gangs with no recourse. So much so, that there is now an outcry from farmer’s organisations and community groups.
Policing in Ireland has been stripped of resources while political rhetoric has focussed on ‘streamlining’ and ‘efficiency’. The transfer of gardaí from one station to another was dressed up as if these gardaí had been freed from desk duties. This was disingenuous. The figures speak for themselves: according to the Minister for Justice, some 61,000 hours of extra policing was created by the closing of this tranche of garda stations – to be set against the around 5 million policing hours lost each year by the reduction in garda numbers. In simple terms, if we accept such figures, is that the closure of garda stations clawed back just 1.2% of the policing hours lost through unreplaced retirements, resignations and incentivised career breaks. Closing stations proved insignificant in savings, but has cost the organisation and our people greatly.
Burglary and theft are particular crimes that leave a lasting scar on the victims. It is the loss of irreplaceable items, rising insurance premiums and damage to livelihood that are immediately felt – but the longer term damage is to the mind. The fear of crime, the loss of security and the aftershock of intrusion can replay heavily and impact upon the victim’s mental health for years. This cannot be washed over with political platitudes.
The mismatch between what the public are told by government and what they perceive locally has the potential to turn from dismay into anger. Those many victims of crime – and a rising fear of crime – will understandably skew the trust in our government and has the potential to undermine the hard-won trust in An Garda Síochána.
“The impact of reduced resources has come home to roost. When vulnerable members of our society can be violently assaulted in their own home, without repercussion nor consequence to the perpetrators is a real measure of a society in trouble. The clear message to our political elite will be to reinvigorate and restore the garda to the centre of the community.”
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.