23 October 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The news that the majority of Gardaí being redeployed to the Co Louth area in a determined strategy to bolster security and deal with serious criminality there are to be taken from the Cavan/Monaghan Division has provoked understandable alarm among politicians and the public.

The need for a highly visible and forceful response to the murder of Garda Tony Golden and the persistent menace posed by dissident paramilitary activity and the activities of organised criminal gangs in the Louth part of the Border region is self-evident. Added to the continuing efforts of the Gardaí to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Garda Adrian Dohohoe, these motivations for an enhanced policing focus on addressing serious crime in one of its major national territories are strong ones, and, if they produced the desired results, the well-being of the country as a whole in addition to that of the area concerned will be significantly served.

But the removal of important human resources from a policing division that has already undergone a 22% reduction in its Garda personnel in recent years in order to achieve these security objectives is troubling.

It illustrates very starkly that the Gardaí have been left with dangerously depleted ranks as a result of the recruitment moratorium that has recently applied to them. The repeated demands from communities in our own circulation area that have experienced a worrying rise in rural crime for a more visible Garda presence in their midst, and the criticism voiced by politicians when cutbacks rather than reinforcement have been the lot of those charged with security responsibility in our own Border precincts, have tended to be met with a somewhat patronising response from Justice Ministers and Garda Commissioners.

The security hierarchy have long insisted that modern policing approaches could not only accommodate the closures of rural Garda Stations and a reduction in numbers of serving Gardaí but were in some way dependent on them. The “doing less with more” mantra used to justify the cuts imposed across the public service during the recession-dictated era of recent rectitude always sounded hollow when applied to the country’s security – it has now surely been conclusively recanted by the response forced on the Gardaí by the urgent policing problems that have arisen in one part of the Border region.

If a perceived urgency in security needs along one part of the frontier can only be addressed by transferring personnel from an under-resourced division responsible for another part, the conclusion is inescapable: there are not nearly enough Gardaí.

The Government has to concede the point – and might argue that they already have the matter well in hand with the Budget commitment to recruit more than 600 new personnel to the force’s ranks over the coming years.

But it will take some time for this reinforcement to filter through in a way that will make a meaningful difference, not only to addressing the major security issues the Gardaí are currently doing their best to grapple with in the more populated Border locations, but also in banishing the prevalent sense of insecurity that many people in the rural locations of our own Co Monaghan communities are daily living with.

Recent meetings of the Co Monaghan Joint Policing Committee have highlighted the ongoing problems associated with cattle theft and the illegal diesel trade and the negative impacts they are visiting not only on the economic well-being of our county but on the spirits of its people.

Less highly visible but still evident from the JPC forums and frequently in our local authority chambers is the cumulative effect of crimes against the person and property taking place in areas where a visible Garda presence has greatly diminished and in some cases vanished completely.

The sense of insecurity in our county’s smaller centres of population, particularly those in proximity to the Border, is very real and palpable. And the reason for it is plain: there are not nearly enough Gardaí.

That insecurity in our midst is likely to be heightened by the transfer of a significant number of policing personnel. And the fear it breeds will be accentuated by the danger that shuffling inadequate numbers to one part of the Border will only see the criminality there shift towards the flank of the frontier left vulnerable.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is undoubtedly cognisant of the need to ensure that all parts of the Border region are adequately policed. The Garda report she received and published on Tuesday into the activities of dissident paramilitaries can only have served to reinforce her awareness, which will have been informed also by the contents of the independent report commissioned by British Government Minister Teresa Villiers on this subject.

The Minister in her response to the Garda assessment laid emphasis on the high-level contact ongoing between the island’s two Governments and their policing authorities on matters of joint security concern.

There is potential for such engagement to produce measures that can help mitigate the lack of Garda numbers along the Border by further developing areas of co-operation with the PSNI.

The call made this week by Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan/Monaghan Brendan Smith for a multi-agency task force to be instituted to address Border security issues is worthy of serious consideration at the joint ministerial and policing forums that are already operating.

The two important assessments produced this week show that the remnants of paramilitarism remaining after the peace initiatives constitute a significant threat to the law and order foundations upon which long-term political stability in Northern Ireland depend.

This imperative alone should hasten the Government’s plans to bring Garda numbers to a level adequate to deal with the overflow of recidivistic paramilitary criminality into our jurisdiction.

Strengthening the Gardaí is the only effective remedy to banishing Border insecurity.


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