THE head of the Limerick garda division says the force will have to work more closely with rural communities as garda numbers are set to decline even further.
Chief Superintendent David Sheahan made his comments at the AGM of Limerick Community Alert which was attended by more than 100 delegates from Community Alert groups across Limerick.
According to Chief Supt Sheahan the rate of gardai per head of population in Limerick has fallen below the national average and now stands at 358/1.
At the end of 2014 there were 614 members of the force, including civilian personnel, assigned to the Limerick division - 95 fewer than at the end of 2011.
More than three quarters of all gardai in Limerick are based at either Henry Street (312) or Roxboro Road (130) garda stations in the city while just 21% are based in either the Newcastle West (76) or Bruff (43) districts
While there are now almost 300 new recruits in the garda training college, Chief Supt Sheahan is warning that he expects “just a handful” will be stationed in Limerick when they graduate.
Given the reduction in garda numbers, he says organisations such as Community Alert are hugely important.
“Without Community Alert, we are really going nowhere. If we don’t have the will and the wherewithal from the community to give us a dig out and assistance - particularly at a time when numbers are reducing well then - to be honest with you - we have lost the plot,” he said.
Chief Supt Sheahan said a recent example of the community working with gardai was in the wake of a number of aggravated burglaries in the Pallasgreen area which resulted in several people being arrested and brought before the courts.
One of the success stories of Community Alert groups across Limerick has been the roll-out of the text alert system.
“We only started recently and we have already got 100 people signed up. We are going door-to-door at the moment trying to sell it, we have sent our password from the providers to the gardai in Newcastle West so we are up and running,” said Eileen Byrnes, secretary of the Kilcornan Community Alert.
“I think it will make a great difference altogether, it will be very good for everybody because a lot of people are concerned with goings on everywhere, they are hearing different things and they just don’t know what to believe anymore so having the text alert will definitely help,” she added.
Chris Moore, Adare, said the text alert system has also proven popular in the local area.
“People are just concerned about break-ins or cars being stolen or suspicious activity around the place and they just enjoy the fact that they have something tangible coming in by text and they know what’s happening so it brings the community together and completes the full circle,” he said.
Diarmuid Cronin, development officer with Community Alert, told the AGM he is concerned with proposals to transfer responsibility for administering the Senior Alert Scheme from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government to Pobal.
He said there is “no common sense in the entire proposal” and that he believes elderly people will end up having to spend more if the change is implemented.
Meanwhile, Chief Supt Sheahan said a joint initiative with Limerick City and County Council will be launched in the coming weeks to make it easier for elderly people to access the services they provide.
“We must come up with new ideas and new strategies to be able to work with older people to be able to ensure they are able to access the service that we deliver and that they have no compunction in respect of coming back and talking to you about it and being able to advise you about it because they have life-long experience,” he said.