Westmeath County Council will write to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, asking him to reverse the decision to close three rural Garda stations in the county.
While all councillors at December’s monthly meeting of Westmeath County Council supported the motion, it provoked the most heated discussion, with Cllr Paddy Hill saying the onus is on Fine Gael councillors to put pressure on the Fine Gael minister.
A local garda is invaluable, councillors Avril Whitney, Paddy Hill, and Paul Daly told the meeting.
Cllr Hill was scathing in his criticism of “city men” such as the minister and economist Colm McCarthy whom he says wrote recently criticizing councillors who want their stations kept open.
“There is unceasing pressure from local politicians to keep the geographical spread of public facilities in the country at the maximum possible, regardless of cost or of the level of service actually delivered. The first efforts to rationalise the excessive number of hospitals began in the early 1970s and have been frustrated by parochialism ever since,” Mr McCarthy wrote in the Farmer’s Journal recently.
Cllr Hill said Mr McCarthy and other like him don’t understand what it’s like to live in rural Ireland and questioned whether Mr McCarthy (who lives on a farm in rural Laois ) had ever stood outside the M50.
Cllr Hill said there would be no great saving to closing the local Garda stations, and said everyone in his area has the phone number of the local garda who turns up to deal with issues even if he is not on duty.
Gardaí have local knowledge and people will confide in a local garda they are on a first-name basis with, he said.
Cllr Avril Whitney said the closure of stations at Finnea, Castletown Geoghegan, and Rathowen is an attack on rural society.
Response times will be much greater and rural Garda stations, which she described as “unsaleable” because of their design will have to be maintained even if they’re closed, she said.
She described the Minister’s decision as “penny wise and pound foolish”.
Cllr Paul Daly said he was heartened to see elderly people at a community meeting in Castletown Geoghegan greet their local garda by name and said it is “reassuring” to older people.
“It’s one more strand of rural Ireland we’re killing,” he said.
Cllr Cooney suggested the letter be adapted to add that the minister not close any further stations, and pointed out that Mr Shatter is not known for changing his mind.
Cllr Hill agreed that his style is “not for turning, but I think it’s time we put some pressure on him to turn on some issues - and no one better than members of his own party to put that pressure on,” he said.
Alan Shatter is “a city man” he said and warned his colleagues that “if this kind of thing continues, in 2016 or 2014 there’ll be a backlash from the public [against Fine Gael] the likes of which we’ve never seen before”.