Worried homeowners in a quiet Co Longford village have hit out at plans by government leaders to restrict opening times at its local garda station, believing the area could become a haven for criminals if a full time garda presence is not maintained.
Residents from the idyllic surroundings of Ardagh launched a broadside at senior legislators this week as it emerged the village has gone almost five months without a decidated garda being on duty.
In February the village’s only serving garda John Coppinger retired, a position which has so far remain unfilled.
Concerned at the situation, local residents opted to speak out this week in an effort to force Leinster House officials to think again.
“When I was young there was a sergeant and three guards here,” said Tom Farrell. “That was 35 years or so ago. People are afraid of their lives that it will close (for good).”
In September, Mr Farrell will celebrate his 78th birthday. Like many of his friends and neighbours, the availability of a local garda has remained commonplace throughout much of that time.
The prospect of being deprived of that resource is clearly something the soft speaking Longford pensioner believes passionately in.
Hunched across a wall as he took time out from mowing a lawn last Thursday afternoon, he had this message for Justice Minister Alan Shatter: “Send back the guard here. We want our barracks open.”
Not surprisingly, the village has experienced its fair share of crime in recent times. In May, three men were each given suspended nine month sentences for their role in a botched raid at Lyons’ Post Office the previous October.
Pascal Lyons, who runs a pub next door, said he was baffled by the delay.
“It is very useful to have a garda here. The last local guard we were able to keep in touch with very well and if there was anything strange or suspicious going on we could just pick up the phone. I can’t understand why they decided to withdraw them because things were working very well as they were,” he said.
Other local residents were just as upset. Stevie Keegan, who ran the village’s post office with his wife Peggy for years beforehand, claimed the move would only play into the hands of eagle eyed criminals.
“Sure that’s encouraging them to come in isn’t it?” he asked. “If there was a ceili or football match or that, you don’t know who is coming in.”
Local politicians have been equally anxious to lend their support this week. Longford Co Cllr Paul Connell, who lives near the village, said anti-crime measures brought in elsewhere were now forcing gangs to target more remote and isolated pockets of the county.
“CCTV in the big towns has driven the big criminals out so they have gone into the countryside where the people have no protection,” he explained. “A lot of people have moved here but to leave this without a police force is not right. We don’t want someone coming in a car and then going, that is no good.”
Longford Westmeath TD James Bannon said he had spoken with his colleagues at government level over the issue and remained confident a successful outcome could be reached.