Northern Ireland

Concern over Garda station closures in Irish border areas

Garda stations
Image caption A number of garda stations have been closed in border areas.

There has been strong reaction in border areas of the Irish Republic to the closure of local Garda stations.

Clontibret, with a population of just over 300, is about a mile from the Armagh border in County Monaghan.

Those over 40 may remember it as the place to which Peter Robinson led what was described as an invasion party in 1986 in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Last year the village lost its police station and locals are not happy.

Fianna Fail councillor Robbie Gallagher, who is a former Garda officer, worries that the closure could have implications for cross-border security and crime.

"The security that was in and around the border area for many years has now been dismantled and we're delighted with that," he said.

"But I think it's fair to say that, in the light of dissident activity on the other side of the border, there is a fear that we're kind of open and people are free to cross the border undetected."

The local post office was robbed in September by masked men.

The raiders got away with an undisclosed sum of money and some believe the closure of the Garda station may have been a reason for the robbery.

Locals are being asked to sign up to a texting system whereby gardai will alert them to suspicious activity in their area and in nearby localities.

"We're taking ownership of our own security and because gardai are short on the ground and can't cover everywhere, we know that these criminals will think that we're a soft target - but we're watching them," Brendan McNally, the chairman of Clontibret Community Alert, said.

A 90-minute drive away is the small County Cavan village of Bawnboy.

At the foot of Slieve Rushen, and not fat from Ballyconnell, it straddles the Fermanagh border.

It lost its Garda station a few weeks ago and Anne Conaghan, the principal of St Mogue's College, is concerned about the implications.

"Speaking as a secondary school principal I would be very concerned about the easy access to drugs in all the towns and small villages of Ireland at the moment," she said.

"Thankfully, we haven't had a problem to date but I firmly believe that's down in no small part to the fact that we had a Garda station in the area and I would be very, very worried for the future."

It is a concern shared by Brendan Smith, the local Fianna Fail TD.

A former cabinet minister, he said that because unarmed gardai police a community they are part of, they have the trust of local people.

And he believes many officers performed a heroic but unheralded role during the Troubles.

"Many good young people were kept out of the clutches of paramilitaries by the good, unsung, work of members of the Garda Siochana based locally," he said.

"They were able to identify those young vulnerable people because of their local knowledge and their presence in local communities right along the border."

Justice minister Alan Shatter has no problem justifying the closures saying many of the stations - built in the 19th century - were specifically in places where the British were able to keep an eye on what he calls the rebellious Irish.

And even with the closures, he pointed out that the Republic will still have far more police stations per population than the likes of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and New Zealand.

Mr Shatter said the closures are part of a modern, smart policing strategy.

"We're freeing up members of the Garda force from desk duties, getting them out into the community, out into patrol cars.

"The 100 stations that we're closing in 2013 will produce an extra 61,000 patrol hours, which are of great value in providing a proper police service both in terms of crime prevention and crime detection."

The minister also said the closures will have no impact on the fight against cross-border crime in all its forms.

And while many locals remain to be convinced, the crime figures over the coming years will tell whose strategy will be proved right.

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