The Garda Representative Association spokesman for Donegal has said there is a serious problem with the availability of garda vehicles in the county.

Brendan O'Connor said Ballybofey was without a patrol car for nine months, and almost all districts are down a number of vehicles, as is the Traffic Corps.

One vehicle was taken out of service in Dungloe this week, he said, adding that there is always a scramble to replace cars, and it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Mr O'Connor said recent events in Co Cavan show what happens when policing is dismantled and withdrawn and he does not want to see the same thing happen in Co Donegal.

He said GRA members in the county have concerns about their own safety and the ability to deliver a service to the community.

Looking at Cavan, he said, if policing is withdrawn, criminality can take hold.

"While we don't have the same high profile level of sinister incidents they have experienced in Cavan, certainly the ingredients are there for the same problems to evolve in Donegal".

Policing in Donegal was decimated by austerity, he said, and while he acknowledged the county has received some new recruits, "it is only now clawing its way back and there's still a deficit".

He said members do not want to move away from the rural unarmed policing model in place in Donegal, but the inescapable reality is that it is in the border region and there is a severe threat in Northern Ireland. He said the northwest is a pocket of dissident republican activity and incidents do spill over the border.

Mr O'Connor said members are happy to be out there unarmed in the community but they need to have the confidence to know that when they need armed support, it is there.

There are three Armed Support Units in the border region: Dundalk, Cavan and Ballyshannon.

However, he said Ballyshannon has to cover from Malin Head to Sligo, and Cavan is at least two hours away.

There have also been occasions, he said, when decisions have been made to give armed support but those decisions were over-ridden by budgetary concerns.

Donegal has unique policing circumstances, which he said are not being taken into account.

He said gardaí there are more vulnerable and isolated than any other gardaí in the country and have genuine concerns about their safety.

Mr O'Connor called for a tiered response, saying not all situations require a full Armed Response Unit, but there is a capacity within An Garda Síochána to deploy long-barrel weapons by the Special Detective Unit in Dublin and that should be re-introduced in Donegal.

"Our management made a strong business case to have that and we haven't been given a convincing argument why we shouldn't be able to deploy local members," he said.

In response to the GRA concerns, An Garda Síochána issued a statement saying local garda management closely monitors the allocation of all resources in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a district, divisional and regional level, to ensure optimum use is made of garda resources, and the best possible garda service is provided to the public.

It said that "senior garda management is satisfied that an adequate policing service continues to be delivered and that current structures in place meet the requirement to deliver an effective and efficient policing service to the community. This situation is continually reviewed."

The statement outlined that "since re-commencement of recruitment in 2017, 79 probationer gardaí have been assigned to date to Donegal.

"Currently there are 444 gardaí assigned to Donegal Division, outside of the DMR this is the 4th highest divisional allocation, and the highest allocation for a predominantly rural division.

"During this period the overall number of gardaí in the border region has increased by 190, with approximately 1,500 gardaí deployed in the border region. 

"These members are supported by Regional ASU and National Units including STOC, SCO, SDU, Security & Intelligence

"An additional Garda Armed Support Unit base has been established in Cavan Garda Station, the Armed Support Unit now operates from three bases covering the border region, Dundalk, Cavan and Ballyshannon.

"There are currently 67 vehicles attached to the Donegal division, which are deployed in accordance with local management policing requirements."