Garda operational changes in Athlone area take effect
An Garda Siochana has confirmed that changes to its operational structure in Westmeath - which mean the force no longer has an Athlone-based Superintendent with specific responsibility for policing in the town - have taken effect this week.
The new Garda model has already been introduced in some other parts of the country and is now being implemented in Westmeath.
One of the implications of the change is that Superintendent Michelle Baker of Athlone Garda Station, who previously headed policing for the town and surrounding area, now has a new role with responsibility for the "performance assurance functional area" across the whole of the Meath-Westmeath Garda Division.
Chief Superintendent John Dollard, based in Navan, will have overall responsibility for the policing of the Meath-Westmeath Garda Division.
Meanwhile two Mullingar-based Superintendents, Bláithín Moran and David Nolan, will have responsibility for "community engagement" in Westmeath and crime across the Meath-Westmeath district respectively.
These new appointments took effect from Sunday last, November 19.
Several Athlone-area councillors previously voiced their concern about the Garda operational changes, which they described as a "downgrading" of Athlone Garda Station.
In a statement today (Tuesday), local Fianna Fáil councillor Aengus O'Rourke said the news this week had confirmed his worst fears about the new operational structure.
"While it is good to finally see 'the plan' for Athlone and Westmeath, it does not give me any confidence in relation to its operational effectiveness," Cllr O'Rourke stated.
"I am not alone in this view - the rank and file members of An Garda Siochana have no confidence in this plan, nor in the man delivering the plan, (Garda Commissioner) Drew Harris.
"Bear in mind that 98.7% of the members of An Garda Siochana voted no confidence in their leader, yet he carries on regardless. Surely this cannot continue to be the case for very much longer?
"With morale on the floor, crime figures rising, Garda numbers falling, recruitment in crisis... in my opinion we are witnessing a perfect storm for An Garda Siochana. And, unfortunately, Athlone is in the eye of that storm.
"Starting from a low base, with a barracks in crisis for a long time due to low Garda numbers, this plan puts the 'tin hat' on a bad situation, particularly with the loss of a resident operational Superintendent.
"Bizarrely, the new plan puts two Superintendents (Nolan and Moran), both based in Mullingar, in charge of general policing and community policing in Athlone.
"The Chief Superintendent (Dollard) with overall responsibility for Athlone will be based in Navan, county Meath.
"In a further twist that defies logic, Superintendent Baker will remain in Athlone but will have nothing to do with day-to-day policing. Instead, she will be overseeing compliance within An Garda Siochana," Cllr O'Rourke commented.
"For a town of its size, Athlone should not be relying on Mullingar or Navan to manage our barracks or the day to day policing of our town.
"Athlone should have a standalone Garda management team with sufficient Garda numbers to look after the town.
"I am convinced that if we had a resident TD or Minister in Athlone this downgrading of Athlone would not have happened," Cllr O'Rourke concluded.