Check Against Delivery 

Before I begin my main remarks this morning, I would like to pause for a moment to again express my deepest sympathy for the family, friends and Garda colleagues of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.

We are here today to talk about the very strong relationship between the community and An Garda Síochána. Detective Adrian Donohoe lost his life standing up for that bond. I hope that the great outpouring of support which we have seen right across the country will provide some measure of comfort to Adrian's family. Our priority is to see the evil killers brought to justice but I know we are all determined more than ever to make sure that special bond between the Gardaí and the community remains at the heart of policing in this country.

That is why I am particularly happy to be here today to pay tribute to the spirit of cooperation and partnership between An Garda Síochána and all of those involved in Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch programmes throughout the country.

I have long been aware of the tremendous work done by Muintir na Tire in supporting the operation of more than 1,300 Community Alert groups around the country and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to acknowledge that work in a formal way today.

Likewise, I am equally delighted to affirm my appreciation of the work of the many Neighbourhood Watch groups that operate in partnership with An Garda Síochána. They provide a very important measure of support and reassurance to local communities in urban areas, and like Community Alert, they do so in the very best traditions of voluntary community service.

We can probably never evaluate the true worth of the freely given and very often unsung efforts of the ordinary people who contribute to local crime prevention initiatives and community support work.

At times like these, when we as a society are struggling to deal with the difficulties arising from the economic situation, it is especially important to make the most of our combined talents and energies.

The latest CSO crime statistics are generally very positive with a reduction in 12 of the 14 crime categories. Despite allegations about increased crime levels across the country, the Gardaí, with considerable community support, are making a significant impact on crime.

I am still, however, concerned about burglaries. Burglaries increased during 2011, prior to the official closure of a single garda station. That is worth noting as it is unfortunately clear that the presence in local communities of Garda Stations which were closed in 2012, and those to be closed this year, acted as no deterrent to the increase in burglary and the atrocious violence perpetrated on elderly victims by those intent on criminality. It was the putting in place by the Garda Commissioner of a targeted national operation, Operation Fiacla in 2012, which is counteracting the spike in burglaries. Between April 2012 and to the end of December 2012, the Gardaí have had enormous successes with 3,538 persons being arrested and 1,924 being charged. The impact of Operational Fiacla is beginning to show in the crime figures.

Despite this, however, we are all aware of the appalling and cowardly attacks on the homes of elderly people in recent times. I utterly condemn these attacks and the Gardaí continue to have my full support in tackling the evil perpetrators.

The attacks on elderly persons underline the need for community vigilance and partnership with local Gardaí. It was in the light of concerns about such distressing incidents, that the Community Alert programme was set up in the mid 1980s. It is a national movement and I believe it is a valuable illustration of how, in a modern context, we can harnesses the community spirit and neighbourliness which always been characteristic of Irish life.

I do of course appreciate there can be genuine concerns in communities about the reform of the Garda Station network. I want to today to set out as clearly as I can for you the thinking behind the station closures which are taking place. This is not about depriving communities of resources. This is about improving the quality of policing available in communities.

Lets look at the facts;

In 2012, 39 Garda Stations were closed. 8 of these had not been opened for a number of years. Their closure was a paper exercise which simply recognised reality. Many more were only one or two member stations. This year, following a comprehensive assessment by the Garda Commissioner of the Garda Station network, a further 100 are listed for closure in the Commissioner’s Policing Plan for 2013 and those closures are underway.

Of the 100 stations to be closed in 2013, 98% are open part-time, 94% are open for 3 hours a day or less and 88% are served by 1 Garda.

The reality is that large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate, especially when the transport and communications infrastructure have transformed beyond recognition.

Modern policing is no longer about bricks and mortar. It is about freeing up Gardaí from behind the desk, so they are out and about in our communities engaging in frontline policing – preventing, detecting and disrupting crime.

Some critics point to the fact that the station closures will save only small amounts of money but I am afraid that completely misses the point. The objective is to maximise the time that our well-trained and highly skilled Gardaí spend on operational duties. This means increasing Garda visibility, improving Garda mobility and using limited resources better.

Community policing goes to the very heart of our reform agenda.

It is the expert view of the Garda Commissioner that a country the size of Ireland, with a population of 4.5 million, does not, need 700 Garda stations. By way of comparison, there are 83 police stations in Northern Ireland for its population of 1.4 million and 340 stations in Scotland for its population of 5.2 million. In the London Metropolitan area, 66 police stations are due to close, leaving 73 police stations open to the public.

The planned closure of Garda stations will not diminish Community Policing which is at the heart of policing in Ireland. Minister Brian Hayes has confirmed that if an appropriate community management structure is put in place, closed stations owned by the Office of Public Works, can be used for local community purposes. This can be of considerable benefit to a variety of local voluntary organisations who currently lack appropriate facilities.

It is also important to mention that despite the financial difficulties, we were able to acquire 213 new Garda vehicles at a cost of €4m in 2012. A further €5m is available for the purchase of additional Garda vehicles in 2013.

In addition to the role that all Gardaí have to play in community policing, there are more than 1,000 Gardaí dedicated to Community Policing countrywide. And in that regard Gardaí continue to work closely with all communities to enhance community safety through a wide range of local fora such as Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch. We should also not forget the approximate one thousand members of the Garda reserve who make a contribution in this area and who are a further link between the Garda Síochána and local communities.

The launch today of the Garda "Community Crime Prevention Programmes" booklet illustrates the ongoing commitment of An Garda Síochána to build on the success of Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch programmes and to maximise the engagement with local communities. I look forward to the continuing development of such important community resources.

I am very pleased to see that the ongoing relationship between the Gardaí and Muintir na Tire is being further underlined today by the signing of an updated Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations.

I am also looking forward to hearing this morning about some of the examples of the work already being done at community level from the representatives of Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch who are with us. Community crime prevention programmes first came into operation in 1985 and in excess of 3,700 Neighbourhood Watch and Community Alert groups have been established since then. They have helped to promote responsible community involvement and have substantially assisted in the promotion of good crime prevention practice.

Every community has the opportunity of establishing a Neighbourhood Watch or Community Alert programme with An Garda Síochána as partners and I would encourage all communities to do so. Both individuals and communities can play an important role in helping to prevent crime, in making it a great deal more difficult for bad people to commit crime and in assisting the Gardaí in their crucial work.

My own Department has been a long time provider of funding for the Community Alert Programme. Despite the very significant budgetary difficulties which we are grappling with, I have been anxious to maintain this funding as far as possible. My starting point for the current year is that we maintain the level of funding for Community Alert. While all expenditure is of course subject to the overall budgetary situation I have asked my officials to proceed on that basis and to keep in close contact with Muintir na Tire in this regard.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my appreciation of the invaluable contribution being made by each and every person involved in Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch and all other local endeavours to prevent crime and reassure communities, especially the elderly and vulnerable persons. I also want to commend all of the dedicated Community Gardaí, all here in the Garda Community Relations Division, and indeed all members of the Force in their untiring work to uphold the law and serve our people.