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 Header Item Shannon Airport: Motion (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Garda Policing Plans

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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  2 o’clock

Ceisteanna - Questions

Priority Questions

Garda Policing Plans

 51. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter his plans for the closure of Garda stations in 2013; his plans for Garda recruitment; his plans for the total number of Gardaí in 2013, 2014 and 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55542/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The policing plan for 2013, which I laid before the House last week, outlines the Garda Commissioner's proposals for the continued reorganisation and consolidation of the Garda station and district network. Until this year, the Garda station network was essentially the same as the RIC network which obtained in 1922. Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate, particularly as the transport and communications infrastructure has been transformed. The Garda Síochána has a class-leading police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system and a transport fleet which is currently receiving significant investment. The new Garda roster being piloted at present provides a better match between Garda availability and policing demand. All of these developments enable the Garda Síochána to be more mobile and flexible and to deliver a more effective policing service.

  We must be honest about the level of policing service that was capable of being provided from the stations that were and are to be closed. Of the 100 stations to be closed next year, 98% are open only on a part-time basis, 94% are open for three hours a day or less, 88% are served by 1 garda and only 5% are served by three or more Garda personnel. Of the 39 stations closed this year, eight were not actually open at all and had been surreptitiously closed under the watch of previous Governments. Their closure was a paper exercise which simply recognised reality. Following the closures in 2013, there will still be 564 Garda stations in the State. This will still be significantly more per capita than is the case in comparable jurisdictions, such as Northern Ireland, where there are 86 stations for a population of 1.5 million, and Scotland, where there are approximately 340 stations for a population of 5.2 million.

  Some critics have complained that the station closures will save only small amounts of money, but this completely misses the point. The point is to make the best use of our well-trained gardaí and, in particular, to maximise the amount of time they spend performing operational duties. The Garda Commissioner, in his professional judgment, has concluded that a more effective and efficient policing service can be provided through the proposals to close these stations and to merge 28 Garda districts into 14. These proposals, along with the other proposal to close the public counters in seven other stations at night, will free up gardaí for front-line service in the communities concerned. This is all the more important at a time of decreasing Garda numbers. It is worth recalling that it was the previous Government that undertook to reduce Garda strength to 13,000 as part of its commitment to the troika to reduce public service numbers overall. The previous Government also introduced the moratorium on public sector recruitment, the result of which has been that no trainee Garda has entered the Garda college since May 2009.

  Current Garda strength is 13,450. This is supplemented by approximately 2,000 civilian support staff and 1,000 Garda reserves. I will remain in dialogue with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the issue of Garda resources, but what is vital now is that the still-significant resources of the force are used with maximum efficiency and to the greatest effect. That is why the reforms being introduced by the Garda Commissioner are essential and should be supported by all Members of the House.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins When they come to write the political review of the year, the Minister, Deputy Shatter will, as a result of how he disseminated this information on budget day last week, be dubbed the most cowardly Minister. It was an exceptionally cowardly act, in the middle of the busiest political day of the year, to announce the closure of up to 100 Garda stations throughout the country in the manner in which he did without affording Members any real opportunity to debate the matter in the House, other than by means of tabling parliamentary questions. That is why I tabled this priority question today. The Minister has missed the point completely. It is not a question of freeing up Garda resources and, in order that they might perform other duties, members of the force. Gardaí are already performing such duties. What is at issue here is the fact that many of the stations it is proposed to close are open only on a part-time basis. Such stations are there in order that the force might show a presence in communities, both urban and rural. People must realise that these closures do not just relate to gardaí and stations in rural areas. The presence to which I refer and the relevant Garda infrastructure are to be removed from communities. The deterrent they offer will also be removed as a result, which is regrettable.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Will the Deputy please pose a question?

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins This is part of a larger agenda on the part of the Government, which has done the same with small schools and community welfare offices, has closed down bank branches and is merging credit unions. Essentially, this Administration is sucking essential services out of communities throughout the country.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Will the Deputy frame a question?

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It ill behoves the Minister to cite what was done by previous Governments. In 2010, when he was Opposition spokesperson on justice, the Minister stated: "We presently have 14,500 members of An Garda Síochána and it is of crucial importance that the number be maintained". He went on to state that a reduction in this number would "obstruct the battle against crime" and said "I predict that tonight drug gangs will be toasting justice minister [Ahern]". The latter will also be drinking a toast of thanks to the Minister, Deputy Shatter-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Will the Deputy please pose a question to the Minister?

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins -----for reducing the presence of An Garda Síochána throughout the country. The Minister has still not indicated what will be the minimum number of gardaí on the force. That number could potentially drop below 13,000.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I must call the Minister.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Up to 1,200 members of An Garda Síochána can retire in the coming 12 months.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I must call the Minister.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It takes two years to train new members.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy Collins must conclude.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I want to make a point.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt No, the Deputy may not do so. There are only six minutes per priority question.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It was exceptionally cowardly of the Minister to make the announcement in this regard on budget day.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Deputy should not try to engage in name-calling or use political bombast in order to cover up the reality that when in government, his party signed up to the agreement with the troika-----

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins As the Minister well knows, we did not sign up to closing Garda stations.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter -----and to reducing the numbers within the Garda Síochána to 13,000 by the end of 2013. In addition, his party did not have the courage and commitment to reform the Garda station infrastructure and network. Is the Deputy seriously suggesting that it would be in the interests of good policing for us to retain a police station network and a Garda structure based on decisions relating to locations, etc., which were made by the British Government in colonial times? Is he suggesting that, at a time when Garda numbers are being reduced as a result of the financial disaster that hit this country as a consequence of the appalling decisions made by his colleagues when they were in government, we should keep trained members of the force unnecessarily behind desks in buildings when they could be out policing local communities? Does the Deputy not have the decency to acknowledge that a large number of members of the force could contribute to the provision of front-line services but are currently unable to do so because they are confined to small Garda stations? Will he acknowledge that a station that opens for three hours or less in the morning does not make any substantial contribution to law enforcement or to protecting the community?

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It is about providing a presence. Does the Minister not appreciate that?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter In so far as the Deputy is alleging that there will be any diminution of Garda services, I must inform him that this has not been the case in the context of the closures that have occurred to date. There will instead be an enhanced service on offer as a result of the fact that members of the force will be available to communities.

Unlike my predecessor, I have made resources available. This year, for example, I spent €4 million on the purchase of 213 new vehicles in order to upgrade the Garda fleet. Some €5 million has been allocated to me for 2013 and this will allow for the purchase of a substantial number of additional vehicles.

It was perfectly appropriate and correct that the announcements to which the Deputy refers were made on budget day, the day on which the Estimates relating to the Department of Justice and Equality were published.


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