“They’re taking the gun to bed at night and leaving the dog in the kitchen so he will make noise if anyone comes to the house,” Ballacolla’s Gee Phelan summed up the reality for people living in rural Ireland.
Ballacolla Garda Station closed its doors for the final time, last Thursday afternoon, having served the people of the surrounding areas for the last 44 years. A village that once had three guards stationed there, was one of two Garda Stations in the county to close, last week.
“Unfortunately we are just going to become a statistic now, they will just log it in a book and nothing further will happen,” Noel Shiels, chairperson of the local hurling club said.
“It was a comfort to people having the shop open. People knew there was a garda presence. He was immersed in the area and knew the different places, now you have to explain where such a place is.
“People are afraid to open their doors at night,” Mr Shiels said.
As people came to pick up their morning paper or pint of milk in Hayes’ shop, it became clear that few could remember the last time they had seen a squad car patrolling the area. Many of the local people were sorry to see the local guard, Pat Neary, retire having spent the last two years in the village.
“It’s a pity to see him go, he was good as a community guard. He got involved in the community and he got to know people. He was great with the community alert,” Mr Phelan said.
Ann Hayes, shop owner, described the closure of the garda station as a scandal.
“It’s a scandal, you don’t see many guards around here anymore. It was a reassurance for people that the guard was there in the mornings, even if it was only for a few hours.”
Val McCartney said local businesses would also be affected by the station closure.
“Where are the guards going to come. Abbeyleix was was 10 minutes away, if there was a car available, now we’re 30 minutes to an hour away.
“They know they guards are gone and with the motorway sure we’re only an hour from Dublin now, they off in no time. All local companies will be affected. It was a great help for the local guard to be seen around the area,” he said.
The Woodenbridge Community Alert Group, which covers the rural area between Durrow and Ballacolla was set up in 2011, following a rise in robberies and other crimes.
Mr Phelan, who is chairperson of the Alert said the text alert system, which the group set up was working well.
“We have between 80 and 100 people on the text alert. If someone see a suspicious car or a person going around, they’re no sure of, they text one person and that person sends the text on to all the members and the guard.
“The local guard was great, if there was something going on he would try and get a car down to check it out or let us know it was ok.
Chief Superintendent John Scanlan said he was going to meet the local community at a public meeting on Thursday night.
“I’m going to meet with the people of Ballacolla to listen to them reassure them that we are doing all we can. We will see what arrangements we can come to to work our way through this, so they have a guard that they can get to know, and will be able to get things like passport forms etc signed.”
A public meeting on the closure of the Garda Station and future Garda services in the area will be held on Thursday night (Febuary 7) in St.Patricks Hall at 7pm.