The Garda Representative Association has accused Minister for Justice Alan Shatter of being soft on crime, its causes and the proceeds of crime.

Mr Shatter was told that the Government has failed to establish itself as the government of law and order, and that he has failed to have any significant impact on policing.

GRA General Secretary PJ Stone also reminded the minister of a statement he made five years ago where he referred to parts of the country as "lawless badlands," and accused him of abandoning areas of the country to this fate by closing down garda stations.

The minister told the GRA's annual conference that he regretted claims that morale within An Garda Síochána is low, saying there was no reason for this to be the case.

"The force has the full support of Government and is widely admired by the general public for the work it does," he said.

The GRA also criticised Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan when he arrived at the conference in Athlone, Co Westmeath, this afternoon. It claims he is putting gardaí at risk because he does not have sufficient resources to fulfil policing plans.

The GRA called on the commissioner to stop sending lists of stations for closure to the Minister for Justice.

The association urged people in rural Ireland who hear of a station earmarked for closure to do everything in their power to keep it open.

Mr Stone criticised what he called the "snakes and ladders approach" currently being adopted by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice.

Earlier, the GRA accused Minister Shatter of ignoring its call for new legislation to prevent attacks on gardaí.

The GRA said two gardaí are attacked every day and that tougher penalties - including jail sentences of up to five years - must be introduced as a deterrent.

Gardaí were also critical of a reduction in manpower, which they say is hampering investigations into alleged financial irregularities and the failure of the Garda Ombudsman to prosecute those who make false or vexatious complaints.

The Ombudsman has rejected the criticism, saying it has sent files on 25 people to the Director of Public Prosecutions for providing false or misleading information.

16 are civilians, while nine are gardaí. Two people have already been convicted.

Meanwhile, the GRA delegate from the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation has said that if the office had more officers, investigations such as the one into alleged financial irregularities at Anglo Irish Bank would not be taking as long.

Shatter defends cuts

In his speech, Minister Shatter told delegates that the €16bn the State spends on public services is an unsustainable amount in the current economic situation.

He said there is "no point in anyone pretending that we can increase public expenditure, whether on the Garda Síochána or on other public services."

He acknowledged criticism of the ongoing closure of garda stations, but said questions should be asked of the critics rather that the Government's actions.

"I have been criticised more recently for saying that I expect that there will be more closures in 2013 as part of the ongoing rationalisation of the garda station network," Mr Shatter said.

"I believe it is the critics, including critics in other political parties, who have some explaining to do.

"Are they seriously saying that the garda station network must remain exactly as it was at the foundation of the State? Are they arguing that every single garda station must be preserved forever? Can anyone plausibly contend that we absolutely need 703 garda stations in such a small country or even all of the 664 that will remain following the announced closures," he asked.

The minister said that not all the changes being implemented were about savings, but were aimed at achieving "the more efficient deployment of available resources".

Mr Shatter went on to express his "utter condemnation" of assaults on gardaí.

He said there is already legislation in place to punish such offenders, but added that he would have "no hesitation in bringing forward proposals for additional measures, if that is necessary."