Garda Stations.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 11

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Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen. I am disappointed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Noel Ahern, is not present but Deputy Killeen is a good and capable substitute.

I wish to highlight the need for a 24-hour Garda station for north Inishowen. As some might know, Inishowen is part of County Donegal but many people from the region believe it to be the 33rd county. It is the size of Louth and has the population of Leitrim and is therefore [848]a sizeable entity. It is mostly surrounded by water and is practically bordered by Northern Ireland on two sides.

There is a Garda station in Buncrana under construction, which I welcome. It is part of an overall development project for the town worth €21 million. The Garda station is being constructed with the decentralised and consolidated offices of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

If there is only one 24-hour Garda station in one part of the peninsula, one must travel a substantial distance to service the rest of it. I won the argument in favour of having a second. Progress was made and I was led to believe we would secure a site for it. It may well have been acquired by now. Some months ago, I was led to believe that the Carndonagh project would proceed along with that in Buncrana. It is from this perspective that I ask whether the Carndonagh project is close to proceeding to construction. In many respects, the construction of the station in Buncrana had many false starts but I am glad to say the work has started.

We need the new Garda station because there has been a high level of deaths on our roads. This has lowered on foot of the presence of the Garda traffic corps. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should note that people appreciate the presence of the corps and would like it to continue to focus on the locations most prone to accidents and also on the times at which they occur. The people who are of most danger to themselves and other road users are always the target and are not in any sense the soft targets or fish in the barrel that we often hear about.

I do not attribute the deaths on the roads to boy racing because the two issues are not always linked, as everybody knows. However, noisy exhausts are a problem in the town centres. People want gardaí to be visible to address this. Where there is only one 24-hour station, there is a perception — regardless of whether it is true — that there is a very small number of gardaí on duty in an area with a very scattered population. In Dublin 30,000 people would inhabit an area less than 1 square mile but, in Inishowen, they would inhabit an area stretching from Newtowncunningham to Malin Head, which is probably a distance of 50 miles, or from Desertegney over the Greencastle and Shrove. If there is as problem in one area while there is only one Garda car available, one can imagine how adequately served the population feels.

I appreciate it was accepted there was a need for the north Inishowen 24-hour Garda station. I do not know if the Minister of State has details of personnel deployment in the station. Residents from places such as Clonmany were worried that there was a lot of delinquent-type activity in the town. There was a particularly bad phase although there are good and bad phases. The main problems in my town of Moville and in [849]Carndonagh are petty vandalism and noisy behaviour at anti-social hours.

Much of County Donegal is bordered by the Six Counties and the large population base of Derry. As a result, it is not the quiet backwater people would like to believe it is. When it comes to money for roads, etc., people see County Donegal as separate from the counties surrounding it. The fact the counties surrounding it are in a different jurisdiction does not mean the people are different. There is much movement across the Border.

I welcome the construction of the station in Buncrana and the fact we have a paddywagon. We want greater Garda visibility and more closed circuit television systems to assist gardaí. There has been quite a turnover of senior Garda personnel in the Inishowen area and I refer, in particular, to superintendents. While every superintendent had merits, at one stage we had five in six years. I come from a teaching background and if a school had that type of turnover of principals, one can imagine what would happen.

I do not want to go into the controversies surrounding the Garda in County Donegal but there is a need for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister to restore confidence in the force, to support the building of team spirit, to ensure sergeants do not rotate as quickly as it sometimes appears and to encourage superintendents to stay in the area and build up a rapport with the people and their staff so that the community initiatives which are needed, such as mini-policing forums, evolve.

As I said, much of the county is bordered by the Six Counties. Many of the Border villages have become unrecognisable. We are not what many people in Dublin believe. We are quite a vibrant little community which is undergoing change. That is very much due to the fact Border villages have turned into quite large towns virtually overnight.

I look forward to hearing the Minister of State’s response, particularly in regard to north Inishowen and the facility at Carndonagh.

Deputy Tony Killeen: Information on Tony Killeen Zoom on Tony Killeen I thank Senator Keaveney for raising this matter and affording us the opportunity to clarify the current position in developing the 24-hour Garda station for north Inishowen both in terms of personnel and the building of the new facility in Carndonagh. Unfortunately, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform is unavailable to take this debate and I am happy to stand in for him.

First, I would like to address the issue of Garda personnel in the north Inishowen area. North Inishowen forms part of the Donegal Garda division. The personnel strength, all ranks, of the Donegal division on 31 December 2002 was 416 and the personnel strength on 31 December 2007 was 476. This represents an increase of 60, or 12.6%, in the number of personnel allocated to the Donegal division since 2002.

[850]Buncrana Garda district covers the north Inishowen area. The personnel strength, all ranks, of the Buncrana Garda district on 31 December 2002 was 77. The personnel strength of the Buncrana district as at 31 December 2007 was 90. This represents an increase of 13, or 14.44%, in the number of personnel allocated to the Buncrana district since 2002. The Buncrana Garda district is made up of the following Garda stations: Buncrana, Burnfoot, Carndonagh, Clonmany, Culdaff, Malin, Moville and Muff.

Buncrana Garda station is open to the public on a 24-hour basis. An extension of the opening hours of the other Garda stations in the Buncrana Garda district would necessitate the employment of additional Garda personnel on indoor administrative duties who may be more effectively employed on outdoor policing duties.

Specifically, in regard to the north Inishowen area, a rural policing initiative was launched there on 21 February 2007 and involves two sergeants and 12 gardaí. It covers the sub-districts of Carndonagh, Clonmany, Malin and Culdaff. The initiative is currently being reviewed to identify ways of enhancing the policing service to the community. The Minister shares the view of the Garda inspectorate, expressed in its most recent report, that community policing is a fundamental policing philosophy and that it is based on strong foundations in Ireland.

Garda personnel assigned throughout the country, together with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy, are continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.

The next allocation of probation gardaí is scheduled to take place on 14 March 2008. The needs of the Donegal division, which include the north Inishowen area, will be considered by the Commissioner in the allocation within the overall context of the needs of Garda divisions throughout the country.

Carndonagh is one of the priority locations on the Garda Síochána’s building programme and it is intended to build a new Garda station there. A site has been identified and the Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for the construction and maintenance of Garda accommodation, is in the process of acquiring it. Once this is done, the OPW and the Garda authorities will bring forward the necessary detailed planning for the new station.

The Government and the Minister are determined to ensure that the Garda Síochána is provided with the necessary personnel and equipment to undertake its role effectively and efficiently. We are committed to providing the force with the financial and other resources it needs. This year the Garda budget stands at over €1.6 billion. This is an unprecedented investment in policing, representing an 11% increase on the Garda budget for 2007.

[851]In general, there is a significant ongoing programme for the replacement and refurbishment of Garda premises around the country. A sum of €260 million is assigned in the national development plan for Garda stations and other accommodation. In addition to this, a total of €9.5 million is available in the Garda budget this year for maintenance of Garda premises.

The House should also note that the OPW is carrying out a review of a number of rural stations around the country in consultation with the Garda Síochána with a view to putting in place a targeted programme of renewal. The results of this review will feed into a broader [852]Garda accommodation strategy which is being developed at present by the Garda Síochána.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I thank the Minister of State for his response. With regard to the two sergeants and 12 gardaí, and the number on duty at any given time, the Minister of State said the needs of north Inishowen will be considered in the next deployment. We should maintain a variety of personnel in the area. It is one thing to get probationer gardaí but it is another thing to have only probationer gardaí. We need to maintain the experienced staff as well.

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