I wish to convey my deepest sympathies to the family of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.  I offer my sincere condolences to Adrian’s wife and children, to his parents, Hugh and Peggy, and to his brothers, sisters and extended family.  Adrian is from a highly respected and much admired family in Kilnaleck in my county of Cavan.

The callous and deplorable murder of a garda on duty has shocked the country.  It is a tragic loss to his family, An Garda Síochána and communities in Louth and Cavan.  I sincerely hope the criminals responsible for this evil deed are brought to justice quickly.  As our party leader Micheál Martin said earlier today, last Friday night was indeed a bleak moment for the entire country.  As Deputy Michael McGrath noted, that evil deed of last Friday night is not connected to the motion under discussion this evening.

Over many decades An Garda Síochána has provided an excellent service to our State and its citizens, and it continues to do so.  The service has been provided in every village, parish, town and city.  Like any good service, it may sometimes be taken for granted by us, as citizens.  A good proposal advocated by Fine Gael before the general election was to put an increased emphasis on community gardaí and encourage members of the force to live in the communities they served.  Naturally, like so many other promises, that proposal has been totally abandoned with the savage assault on the Garda station network throughout the country, especially in the north west of the country.

In my constituency, three Garda stations have already been closed – namely, those in Tullyvin, Clontibret and Smithborough.  They were closed by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter.  Now, he proposes to close six more stations, at Bawnboy, which is in my home village, Redhills, Stradone, Shantonagh, Corrinshigo and Newbliss.  The Ballyconnell district is being merged into Cavan district.  Unfortunately, those communities will lose their local stations.  This move represents a shocking level of cuts to our local Garda resources.

This slash-and-burn decision was sneakily announced by the Minister on budget day.  It makes absolutely no sense to remove the Garda presence from our communities on such a large scale at a time when the rate of burglaries has increased.  The presence of a local Garda station, however small, acts as a deterrent to criminals who target vulnerable households.  The concerns of local communities are well articulated not only by public representatives of every party but by many organisations, including farming organisations such as the IFA and Muintir na Tíre.

As Deputy Niall Collins stated earlier, social media will never replace the local knowledge and intelligence that is gathered by a garda who is really local to his community.  The value of a visible Garda presence should never be underestimated.  Our local radio stations are constantly airing interviews with people in isolated communities throughout rural Ireland who feel increasingly vulnerable in their homes.  The Garda Representative Association, whose members are at the front line of policing, has described the closures as a serious blow to community policing.  One of the most important resources available to gardaí is the support of the local community.  That support is cultivated and nurtured through strong relationships between locals and gardaí on the beat, and the local Garda station is an integral part of that infrastructure.

I come from the Border region.  The parish I grew up in borders County Fermanagh.  I know from when I was a youngster of the value of local knowledge to the Garda during the difficult era when paramilitaries were creating havoc in the province of Ulster.  Many gardaí worked beyond the call of duty to ensure that vulnerable young people who were not getting the necessary support at home were kept out of the clutches of paramilitaries.  This came about through local knowledge and through the network of Garda stations.  That is the type of preventative action that we should never underestimate.