THE DECISION to merge 18 Garda Divisions across Ireland into nine large new policing areas will see Tipperary and Clare be amalgamated – a move that has prompted TDs and local representatives to express concerns rural areas will become neglected and more under resourced.
Local Joint Policing Committee (JPC) leaders across the country have greeted the new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris’ plans to create nine new “super Divisions” with trepidation, particularly in Tipperary where the number of Chief Superintendents active in the new Division will drop from seven to four.
“It’s a complete disaster,” was the assessment by Fianna Fail Councillor and outgoing Chairman of the Tipperary JPC, Roger Kennedy, who added that he worries Tipperary, a predominantly rural county with nine large towns, will be left “vulnerable.”
Cllr. Kennedy cited the sense of disconnect between north and south Tipperary as an anomaly that has been misunderstood by Commissioner Harris and his team, pointing out that north Tipperary towns like , Roscrea, Thurles and Nenagh are “closer to Monaghan” than the south of the county and feels that adding in another vast region will further dilute resources.
Commissioner Harris’ plans claim that nationally an extra 1,800 Gardai will be redeployed into performing operational duties, by freeing up 1,000 Gardai from administrative duties and through recruiting 800 new members of the force.
However, Tipperary Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill says he feels the plans for Tipperary are “very worrying” and that he has “grave concerns” if the merger with Tipperary and Clare Garda Divisions goes ahead. “I have concerns that the merging of our Garda Division will see resources stretched too far. Under the new Division boundary, we are looking at an area stretching from Carrick in Suir to Ennistymon and I am worried that services will be stretched too far to cope with the size of the Division,” Deputy Cahill said.
He said county Tipperary has “its own unique policing requirements” and that a predominantly rural county requires a “robust and mobile police force.”
“I believe merging with Clare will only dilute services and this should not be permitted. I am also concerned about where the Divisional headquarters will be and how many Superintendents will be in place. At the moment there are five Superintendents in Tipperary and two in Clare. Under the new plan the number of Superintendents is to be cut from seven to four – where will these positions be lost?” he asked.
Deputy Cahill said he plans to call on the Minister for Justice to ensure that any savings made from the new Divisions should be reinvested into front-line Garda resources in this area, because he is concerned the plans are “another attempt by government to portray itself as proactive, when in fact, it is failing to deliver on key issues.”
“Uncertainty remains under the new plans. The Minister, and Garda Commissioner should provide further details and engage with communities,” Deputy Cahill said.
The plans to reshape the Gardaí’s organisational structure are facing a rural backlash and a number of TDs, Garda representative organisations and community bodies have raised concerns over the plans. It’s the most radical shake-up of the force since its foundation. Many rural TDs throughout Ireland are concerned that control of the new Garda divisions will be geographically remote from communities which have already borne the brunt of cutbacks in the past decade. Deputy Seán Fleming said the changes will lead to “a reduction in policing.”