NAAS is to lose its divisional Garda HQ to Portlaoise as part of the restructuring programme of an Garda Síochána which will see them consolidate their regions from six to four, and divisions from 28 to 19.
The downgrade was flagged here a month ago when Superintendant Oliver Henry First raised this possibility at last month’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting with Kildare councillors on 2 September, before it was confirmed last Thursday 26 September.
In real terms, there won’t be any material change to Kildare policing, only that the buck now stops on the desk of the ranking senior officer within the new Offaly/Laois/Kildare district – Chief Superintendent John Scanlon who is based in Portlaoise.
According to a garda spokesperson “a wide range of operational factors have been considered when deciding where the new regional and divisional headquarters should be based, including population, geography, projected growth, crime trends and workload across a range of work streams”.
Both Supt Henry and his ranking colleague in Leixlip Gerry Wall voiced support for this, the first such restructuring in garda divisions since the formation of the State.
“There is a new policing model. We support change, constructive change to get more [of our] people in the community,” said Supt Wall.
“There are issues, but we’re big enough and bold enough to hold that conversation,” he pointed out.
He explained how one aspect of the plan was to give present responsibilities like HR, IT admin and fleet management to a civilian executive officer, and free up the expertise of superintendents and inspectors to concentrate more on policing matters.
“That’s a good idea…[and] you can expect victim services to expand substantially,” Supt Wall added.
He explained the decision to amalgamate the three counties was based on international best practice where it has been demonstrated that a district with a staff roster of between 600 and 800 officers would be “self-sufficient” in terms of expertise in fields such as forensics, armed support, community policing, traffic, a water unit.
Reactions to the move have been mixed amongst local representatives.
“I think it was always on the cards. It’s never nice to see these things going, but it should allow Naas [gardaí] to do more policing rather than looking after admin,” said Naas councillor Fintan Brett.
“I think it is a very good idea, putting white collar people and allowing the blue collars to do more policing,” he added, pointing out that he already noticed a greater garda presence on the streets of Naas over the weekend.
However, his colleague Cllr Bill Clear held a different view.
“From a Naas point of view, we’ll lose out in a big way,” he said.
“I don’t welcome it and think we will suffer. Hopefully, it won’t result in a higher level of crime [around the town,” he said.
Cllr Vincent P Martin was a little more sanguine, and picked a position somewhere between his two elected colleagues.
“We’d regret any perceived diminution in garda presence in the constituency,” he said.
”We will have to wait and see if this translates into more gardaí on the streets,” he added.
Kildare TD Frank O’Rourke also felt this was a bad idea to move the HQ from the most populous county in the new division.
“The new divisional headquarters, based out of Portlaoise, will be catering for a population of almost 300,000 people, over 200,000 of whom are in Kildare. Surely it would have made more sense for the divisional headquarters to be where the population is concentrated,” he pointed out.
The new operating model has already commenced with the amalgamation of regions and will be introduced into Divisions on a phased basis, however those in the border region are unlikely to see any significant change until further clarity is available on Brexit.