As a recently retired member of An Garda Síochána with over 35 years’ experience I feel qualified to make certain observations.
Crime is rising in rural Ireland and not only is it rising but it also seems to be taking on a more sinister and violent aspect. Some commentators are attributing this rise to the modern motorway network providing ease of access to rural areas and speedier escape routes back to urban towns and cities.
This is a handy opt out for those tasked with keeping our citizens safe and secure in their homes. Criminals have been travelling the countryside to engage in crime for years so this is not a new phenomenon. But the urban landscape has become more attractive to criminals for reasons that senior garda management and senior politicians refuse to acknowledge publicly.
Closure of rural garda stations, new garda rosters and lack of garda manpower have had a significant impact on country living and have resulted in residents becoming more vulnerable and more isolated and as a consequence, more afraid. These are issues that have seriously impacted upon An Garda Síochána for some time, yet senior management have continued to remain silent.
While privately, many officers will express dismay at decisions made by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice few, if any, will stand up to be counted. Going against the party line will reflect negatively on their promotion prospects and this reason alone is enough to guarantee their silence. More seriously though, it also means that decisions are being supported even when they are blatantly not right.
In 2009, a mere six years ago, the National Model of Community Policing was launched by M.F.Murphy, Commissioner of An Garda Síochána:
“I am committed to ensuring that a strong ‘ethos’ of ‘Community Policing’ is inculcated throughout the entirety of An Garda Síochána, which will result in an increased level of community partnerships, a more visible Garda presence and a reduction in crime and the fear of crime in our communities. I believe that by adopting this model, An Garda Síochána will achieve its Corporate Community Policing ‘Mission’ of ‘Delivering Excellence in Community Policing through effective Partnerships, Problem Solving and Law Enforcement”.
This was always going to be a difficult ethos to develop for a number of reasons. Manpower shortages ensured that community policing officers were regularly taken from their duties to fill gaps elsewhere. The introduction of the new roster system was completely unsuitable to community policing duties and only ensured that those employed in community policing were less available to the community. And finally, there is a serious disconnect between the majority of officers within An Garda Síochána and the concept of community policing.
Community policing, which a short while ago was being heralded as the tool to create safer communities and to reduce crime and the fear of crime, has been decimated. The great plan to deliver ‘Excellence in Community Policing through effective Partnerships, Problem Solving and Law Enforcement’ died before it had a chance to live and this too was heralded with the remarkable sound of silence.
More recently, government and senior management in An Garda Síochána have tried to persuade the nation that rural Ireland is getting a better and more efficient policing service by closing country stations and redeploying those gardaí to larger centres. This is difficult to understand given that these redeployed members would automatically be consumed by the workload demands on the already under staffed station party that existed there. In these circumstances it is hard to see how any relationship could develop between the community and a garda that is providing a fleeting skeleton service.
Statistics can be used to reinforce any argument and there are some that can be produced to strengthen the idea that closure of rural garda stations was a good idea. Similarly there are valid arguments to be made for retaining them but surely there are also times when the greater good of society must also be considered regardless of the financial implications.
A lone garda in a small rural area is no guarantee of a crime free environment but it does guarantee contact between the gardaí and the community which in turn guarantees a constant flow of information, crime prevention advice, intelligence gathering and local knowledge. The mere fact that there is a certain amount of activity at a garda station at night is a comfort to many in a rural community. The sight of a garda walking around a village breeds a sense of security that is difficult to place a value on.
It is hardly cost effective to accept thousands of immigrants from war torn Syria and neither is it cost effective to send millions out of the country in overseas aid. But these things are done because of a moral obligation and a sense of what is right.
Our own citizens living in rural Ireland, particularly the older and more vulnerable, are entitled to expect a peaceful and secure quality of life. There will be a cost associated with providing that and resources will have to be paid for. Surely, An Garda Síochána, a Force that I was proud to have been a part of for over 35 years, can provide some better form of comfort to our communities than telling them to leave a light on in the house.
Unfortunately I don’t hold out much prospect for an improvement any time soon.
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.