THE closure of five garda stations across County Limerick this Thursday will leave the elderly in rural communities â€œat the mercy of criminal gangsâ€ according to Galbally-based councillor, Eddie Ryan, who has called for An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to sack the justice minister on foot of the closures.
As of close of business this Thursday, garda stations in Kilfinane, Galbally, Kilmeedy, Tournafulla, Castletown Conyers, and Mary Street in the city will no longer be in use as part of a nationwide review of services.
â€œWe have seen it happen already in Pallasgreen and in other areas - old people being tied up in their homes. The elderly are being left high and dry in isolated parts of the county,â€ said Cllr Ryan.
The Fianna Fail councillor has called on the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to sack Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter who forced the closure of 100 garda stations across the State in the biggest restructuring of An Garda SÃochÃ¡na in its 90-year history.
â€œHe does not give a damn. He is destroying the garda force and he is destroying good policing methodologies as well,â€ said Cllr Ryan.
â€œWe have to stand up for the rural communities. The post offices, and banks and now rural garda stations have all been hit â€“ we have nothing left out here.â€
The decision to close garda stations in the most rural parts of County Limerick is â€œnonsensicalâ€ according to Christy McCormack who was stationed in Galbally for 23 years before his retirement last year.
The biggest losers in the sweeping programme of change, he feels, will be the young people who wonâ€™t have the advantage of a local garda to keep them on the straight and narrow.
â€œItâ€™s fair to say that a lot of youths went through my hands and there was no paper work and they all turned out fine. You could actually deal with them at a local level and, to be honest, 99.9 per cent of them turned out to be fine, decent men. They wonâ€™t get that break now,â€ he pointed out.
Senator James Heffernan said the closures are â€œa blatant disregard for the needs of the people in rural communitiesâ€.
â€œItâ€™s easy for Mr Shatter to make decisions over a glass of Merlot in the Shelbourne Hotel, the truth of the matter is he is completely out of touch with rural Ireland,â€ he said.
The Kilfinane native said the move would leave the elderly more vulnerable, and will have a negative impact on the gardai â€œwhose morale is at an all-time lowâ€.
â€œIt gives criminals and shysters a boost to know that there will be less areas populated by rural gardai,â€ said Senator Heffernan.
Tommy Oâ€™Sullivan, chairman of the local community council in Kilfinane, said the loss of the personal touch and local knowledge as a result of the closures is incalculable.
â€œThe local guard to us is more than just a guard. He is a friend to a lot of the young fellas too,â€ he said.
Deputy Niall Collins, the Fianna FÃ¡il Spokesperson on Justice, pointed out that the Bruff garda district - an area that covers the size of County Louth - is currently being served by three garda squad cars - â€œfurther proof that the force is being reduced to a glorified neighbourhood watch scheme.â€
â€œThe minister is saying to communities, the elderly and vulnerable that they should contact the gardai on Facebook and Twitter, and that clinics will be held,â€ he pointed out.
â€œThere is no policing or financial argument to back up what the minister is doing in removing the deterrent that a garda station represents in every community,â€ he added.
Cllr David Moloney who is from Kilfinane said â€œif nothing else the barracks stood as a symbol of garda presence and authority in the communityâ€.