Local councillors claim status of Athlone Garda station is being effectively downgraded

ronan fagan

Local councillors have unanimously called upon the Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee, and the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, to reverse a decision which would effectively downgrade the status of Athlone Garda station.

At the most recent sitting of the Municipal District a letter from Garda headquarters outlining the impending changes in Westmeath was relayed to the members present.

Expressing much cause for concern upon hearing the contents of the letter, Independent councillor, Paul Hogan, stated that the imposition of such changes would result in the loss of a superintendent at Athlone garda station.

“The new Garda Operating Model is due to come into force by the end of next month (November 2023 ). This change is essentially a move from a community-based division to a business model which comprises business services, performance assurance and crime.

“This is a sad day for policing in Athlone as our garda station will lose its superintendent. We will be effectively policed from Mullingar and Mullingar will be effectively governed by An Garda Síochána in Meath. In effect, we will be the poor relation of the poor relation,” Cllr Hogan stated.

The Independent councillor stated that such changes are being enforced as crime escalates within Athlone and its immediate environs.

“These changes are due to come into force when we are experiencing massive increases in crime in the Athlone area. The sale and supply of drugs has increased by 240 percent, unauthorised thefts from vehicles up 150 percent, thefts from other properties up 105 percent and thefts from shops up 82 percent. We have experienced harrowing assaults on elderly people in their own homes.

“Athlone is a major business centre as identified under the National Planning Framework 2040. We have over 6,000 students on campus in TUS every day. We have 14,000 people coming into Athlone every day to work and do business. We are a major crossing point in the middle of the country from East and West and North and South. We are the tourism capital of the Midlands and yet, there is a proposal to downgrade our policing system.

“Of noticeable concern, we have further witnessed the number of guards dwindle in Westmeath by approximately 20 percent. It is also Government policy to provide more guards in Dublin and a budget of overtime of €10 million for existing capital-based gardai,” Cllr Hogan added.

Detailing such figures, Cllr Hogan expressed his concerns that crime levels will continue to increase in the locality.

“All of this means that crime levels are going up, we have fewer gardai in Westmeath than we did a year ago, morale is on the floor and now we have a proposal to downgrade the status of Athlone Garda Station with the loss of our superintendent position for the town and surrounding areas. Other stations in the current Athlone District will likely be moved to be governed from Mullingar.

“In view of such statistics, I am calling on Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to reverse this decision with immediate effect. Other policing districts have already moved to reverse this decision and Westmeath should stand together to do likewise. I am also calling on all of our Oireachtas members to support the facilitation of a meeting with the Minister and Commissioner to have this decision reversed,” Cllr Hogan asserted.

Akin to Custume Barracks Downgrade

Comparing the Garda headquarters confirmation to that which detrimentally impacted Custume Barracks in 2012 (when the Defence Forces base was removed of its Brigade status ), Cllr Frankie Keena noted that the members had to be united in their cause of the operational decision reversed.

His party political colleague, Cllr O’Rourke, echoed similar sentiments, stated that the members of An Garda Siochana had expressed “no confidence” in Commissioner Drew Harris, noting that there had been a “winding down in status” of Athlone Garda station in recent times.

Fine Gael councillor, John Dolan, concurred, asserting that “morale was extremely low amongst gardai” with only a minimal presence “on the beat” when most needed.

 

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