Five garda stations in Donegal will close their doors and cease to operate from midnight tonight. The move has caused grave concern among local communities and groups against a backdrop of increased break-ins and robberies which have shook many rural communities to the core.
The five stations closing today are Annagaire, Glenn Cholm Cille, Malin, Mín an Lábain and Na Brocacha.
Twenty eight garda districts are to be merged into 14, which means that the Ballyshannon and Glenties districts will merge to become one district with the superintendent based in Ballyshannon.
One priest who has been vocal on the necessity for garda presence in rural areas said that the Government has literally called an “open season” for criminals to come to Donegal. Father Eddie Gallagher said that drug pushers will be able to come in and sell and even “promote their drugs” in rural areas due to the reduction in garda numbers.
“If you leave the county unsupervised you area basically calling open season on rural areas in Donegal. That’s the reality of it. It’s going to be an area deficient of gardaí where drug pushers can come in and sell and promote their drugs in any way possible,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by anti drugs campaigner, PJ Blake who said that drugs have become the driving force for crime. “I have always highlighted the issue that we need more gardaí out there.” Speaking in the wake of the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe he said that it takes a tragedy to make people sit up and take notice. The former councillor said that he hoped the drugs unit in Donegal would be safe for the future.
“They seen fit to close the Monaghan/Cavan drug unit. I am terrified that they will do the same here,” he said.
Speaking ahead of the Dáil debate on a Fianna Fáil motion which opposes the closure of garda stations, Deputy Charlie McConalogue said: “The Justice Minister Alan Shatter needs to open his eyes and recognise what has been happening in Donegal. People are fearful in their homes. They need a strong and visible garda presence in their communities to deter criminals and to suport vulnerable householders - not another slash and burn of community resources.”
There are real fears among communities that garda resources will be at their lowest level in a decade. Independent Deputy Thomas Pringle has also voiced his concerns over today’s cuts adding that it could take a patrol car up to two hours to make it to its destination. “Some people living on their own are so afraid that, when they go to bed at night, they leave €50 on the kitchen table in case the house is burgled in the hope the burglar will take it and leave. That is no way to live,” Deputy Pringle said.
The chairperson of the Malin Development Association and Inishowen Community Forum, John McLaughlin said: “I don’t believe it stands up to say that closing stations means more gardai will be out on patrol. We’ve always worked very well and closely with local gardaí so we know that numbers here have gone down in recent years. The lack of a presence on the ground is there for all to see. We had two guards and a sergeant here in Malin, full time, not that long ago, and one in Culdaff, that was attached to Malin. Now there’s none.”
Earlier this week, the director of Oideas Gael, Liam Ó Cuinneagáin urged the Minister to reconsider his proposal. “The Minister for Justice and The Garda Commissioner should reconsider their proposals and decide to keep the Garda Station in Glencolmcille open, at least for the busy six months from Easter until September.”
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Deputy Joe McHugh said while stations are being closed that other areas in policing can be improved. “Society is changing very quickly. We have to be conscious at looking at a new rural community policing model. We have to look at all the community groups take for example the coast and cliff rescue who do a lot of voluntary work and are professionally trained and we have to look at ways in which we can engage with the existing community infrastructure,” he said.
Deputy McHugh said that he was eager that relations be strenghtened along the border area in light of the recent break-ins and burglaries.