I am calling on the Government to urgently take active steps to assist and support An Garda Síochána as they respond to the growing problem of break in’s and burglaries in the past number of weeks in Tipperary. I would like to commend the Gardaí for their continued efforts to tackle crime given the severe cut backs they have had to their numbers and I am calling for action to help them tackle this issue.
The prevalence of crime, particularly burglaries, has risen dramatically in the past number of weeks. This is true not just across our towns but also in villages and rural areas. In the past few weeks I have heard of many incidences in rural areas across the constituency and unfortunately I’m sure that everyone has heard of similar stories. These are areas which previously would have had an incredibly low rate of crime that now find themselves targeted by burglars. Many of these are communities that would not have locked their doors at night and they now find themselves living in fear and wondering as to the security of their homes, vehicles, farm machinery and possessions. It is particularly upsetting for the elderly and the vulnerable and simply cannot be allowed to continue.
The Gardaí are doing a stellar job in reacting to these calls and seeking to find the offenders. The difficulty arises in that they are operating under severe pressure with regards to staffing levels and finances.
These crimes have understandably sparked huge concern and upset in the areas affected. People are apprehensive, fearful, and unsure of how to best protect their homes. I was further frustrated therefore to discover that the post of Crime Prevention Office in Thurles Garda Station is currently vacant. The Crime Prevention Officer in Thurles would cover the entire North Tipperary region, however this position has remained empty since the retirement of the previous crime prevention officer (CPO). A dedicated CPO is specifically trained to encourage, promote and advise on crime prevention to both the private and business community. Their brief is to prevent crime from occurring and they offer specific, constructive advice in relation to retail and asset security. The burden of educating the public on how to best protect their homes therefore falls on already stretched local Gardaí in that community.
When I contacted Minister Shatter, the Minister for Justice and Equality, on this issue he stated that it was a matter for the Garda Commission. He further indicated that the CPO in Waterford would now also cover the Tipperary area in addition to his own jurisdiction and that this was a satisfactory level of service. The Waterford CPO is already overburdened with the Waterford area and therefore does not have the time to travel to Tipperary to advise individuals. The Minister confirmed that the cost of providing such an officer for the entire North Tipperary area was somewhere in the region of €45-53,000.
This is an unacceptable situation. Minister Shatter has effectively wiped his hands of the issue. This disregards the fact that his Department have a direct impact on the funding of An Garda Síochána and for the maintenance of their numbers. Only this week it has been stated that Minister Shatter is forcing An Garda Síochána to absorb the cost of the visits of the heads of state earlier in the year, despite the fact that at the time of the visits the Gardaí were assured that they would be reimbursed. With the force being asked to absorb a share of this expected €36million cost is it any wonder that front line services are being affected?
Even more galling are the repeated media reports that up to 200 rural Garda stations may be lost in the coming months in a bid by the Government to save money. This would be a hammer blow for rural life and would cause additionally distress to rural families. The presence of a Garda in the community even if it is not full time, fosters a sense of security and serves as a deterrent to crime. The Government must show its dedication to community safety and security and affirm its commitment to protecting rural Ireland and its way at life. At present we see attack after attack on the security of rural dwellers. Firstly it is the loss of a CPO and now we fear the loss of rural Garda Stations.
This is particularly upsetting given the fact that we have a world class Garda training facility sitting idle in this very constituency. While I appreciate the difficult financial constraints the government is operating under the effect of crime is even more costly to society.