The last number of weeks has seen a lot of talk about changes in Garda practice and station closures. I think it’s worth nothing the concern of the Garda Commissioner about not wanting to let the levels in the service drop below 13,000 – yet in Fianna Fail’s own plan, they would have hit exactly that number in 2014. Yet, right now, our Gardai numbers are still above what they projected for 2012.
I would therefore have to say that recent fearmongering from Fianna Fail stinks of predictable politics by numbers:
Politics by numbers where Fianna Fail oppose current reforms, yet in Fianna Fáil’s own ‘National Recovery Plan 2011-2014’ published in November show that you proposed a bigger reduction in Garda numbers and bigger cuts in the Garda budget.
Politics by numbers where Fianna Fail don’t care about the actual numbers: crimes going down between 2008 and 2012 – and instead try to generate fear in communities.
Numbers, real numbers, numbers of substance, absolutely matter and so they should – so let’s take a look at some of the numbers from Fianna Fail’s own figures versus our figures: In 2012, Minister Shatter secured €2.243 billion which was an additional €118 million over and above the Fianna Fáil allocation of €2.125 billion and for this year, Minister Shatter secured funding of €2.2 billion which was €191 million over and above the Fianna Fáil allocation of €2.009 billion. The reality of these numbers is that the budget for policing is better off than it would have been under Fianna Fail’s own plans. It’s there in black and white in their own report.
Nevertheless, despite Fianna Fail attempting to generate controversy and upset in communities over these policing issues, let’s look at some facts about Garda station closures: Of the 100 stations to be closed in 2013: 98% are open part-time, while 94% are open for 3 hours a day or less. Meanwhile in terms of personnel, 88% are served by 1 Garda and only 5% are served by 3 or more Garda personnel. What does this mean precisely? Well, in the cases of the 1 Garda manning the station, it now means that they are freed up to patrol.
The reality of advancing technology, communications and equipment for Garda now means that Gardai who are deployed on our streets are able to access information and communicate as effectively and efficiently as they were when based at a station just ten years ago. Policing is evolving as technology evolves, and our structures need to evolve with it. Evidently, this has the capacity to scare people as they think police coverage will be thinner – and Fianna Fail plays on this fear – but nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that Fianna Fail bemoaning stations closing and better-equipped Gardai being allowed to protect the streets is akin to complaining that we no longer buy as many muskets for the army as we used to and instead have upgraded them: technology changes, processes update. Having a station open for 3 hours a day when that guard can be better deployed elsewhere is pure symbolism – something that, I know, many politicians like to specialise in.
In conclusion, let’s get back to the numbers – let’s focus on numbers that matter: crime numbers as opposed to station numbers. The crime statistics for the 12 months ending on 30th September 2012 show reductions in 12 crime groups. Crimes against the person are down including homicide offences (down 17.9%), sexual offences are down while assault and related offences are down almost 10%. Public order and damage to property offences are also down (by 12% and 9.3% respectively) as are drug offences (down 7.1%) and weapons and explosives offences (down 17.4%). These numbers are down. The numbers of Gardai on the street compared to Fianna Fail’s plan are up. Funding is up compared to Fianna Fail’s plan. New equipment is being invested in constantly – with another €5m invested in vehicles this year.