Three Co Longford based garda stations earmarked for closure by the Government last month, are to officially close by the end of January, it has been announced.
It means residents living in the Ardagh, Ballinalee and Newtowncashel areas of the county will be left without full or even part-time policing services from February 1 onwards.
The revelation has also surprised rank and file members of the Gardai, many of whom had expected the closures would be extended over a much greater period.
Senior sources said they hadn’t bargained on the “earlier than anticipated” reshuffle from happening until later on in the year in order to allow for a more manageable reorganisation of Garda resources.
Those changes, set for barely two weeks’ time, will also lead to a significant redeployment of existing officers to stations up and down the county.
The Leader has learned that Ardagh’s current serving garda has been allocated to Edgeworthstown with Smear, just outside the north Longford village of Aughnacliffe, taking in an additional member from Ballinalee Station.
Similarly, a garda presently assigned to Newtowncashel, will instead transfer Lanesboro. Other station closures where similar changes are likely to take place over the coming weeks include those at Cloone and Dromod in Co Leitrim, both of which are set to close by the end of the month.
In Westmeath, Finea and Rathowen are likewise envisaged to close for the final time come January 31 in a move which is likely to throw further emphasis on the need for greater community alert initiatives such as the Gardai’s much acclaimed text alert initiative.
As those communities prepare to digest the changes announced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter, politically, the decision has is still being mulled over.
Local Fine Gael TD James Bannon said he was disappointed at the sooner than expected move, citing Ardagh Garda Station as a particular bone of contention.
“I am not happy,” he said when contacted on Monday.
“The minister keeps telling me Garda Stations are only buildings and that’s true but the perception of crime is very important to people especially in rural areas.”
Mr Bannon said there was now a need for greater numbers of community gardai to offset the planned reorganisation announced in last December’s budget.
He did however stop short of indicating whether the measures had forced him into rethinking his own position within the party.
“I am elected to do a job,” he replied strongly. “Anyone can shout and run away from responsibility. But I am elected to do a job for local communities which I am doing. I want to ensure we keep Garda numbers up and that’s what I intend on protecting.”