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Garda Stations Closures

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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Garda Stations Closures

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross The announcement of the closure of Stepaside Garda station about two weeks ago took the people of Stepaside and the surrounding area by surprise and was a considerable shock to them. The area between Dundrum and Enniskerry, in which approximately 18,000 to 20,000 people live, will be without a Garda station as a result. I must declare an interest as I was brought up about 500 yards away from this Garda station. In the days when I was growing up, it was the centre of a very small community. It is now the centre of a very large community which is extraordinarily surprised and universally upset by the fact that the station is to close, because it is such an important part of the lives of young and old people in this area.

We held a meeting about this in Kilternan a few days ago and what was so striking about it was that people of all ages and from all areas of life feel they depend on the local Garda station as part of their local community. Members of the Garda also attended the meeting and spoke against this closure, saying it would be far more difficult to police the area if this station is closed next July or at any other time. Stepaside contains a post office and many shops and has been expanding considerably in recent times. The area that will need to be policed includes Sandyford, Leopardstown Shopping Centre, Carrickmines, Carrickmines Retail Park and Glencullen. The area also has a rural aspect. It is very important that people who live in and around the Dublin Mountains in Glencullen and Barnacullia have a local Garda station. They feel they will not be properly served if this service goes to Dundrum or Blackrock.

I know the thinking in the Department is that the area will be well policed because there will be a large number of Garda cars able to service the area. The difficulty here is the distance, the traffic and the problem of getting from Dundrum out to Kilternan in a short period of time. That will be the real problem. This Garda station, which includes 30 gardaí, will have to be removed and I do not know what will happen to it. I do not know if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence heard about the result of that meeting but there was a unanimous demand that this Garda station be kept open. I welcome the presence of Deputy Mathews, who is also against the closure.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I thank Deputy Ross for raising this issue. I fully appreciate the sensitivities with regard to Garda station closures. While I dealt with the issue at great length in the House during Question Time just over a week ago, this Topical Issue debate provides me once more with an opportunity to set out in clear and unambiguous terms the objectives of the programme of consolidation of the Garda station and district network.

The decision to close 100 Garda stations in 2013 was the result of a comprehensive operational assessment carried out not by me but by the Garda Commissioner over the past 12 months. The policing plan for 2013, which I laid before the House two weeks ago, outlines the Commissioner's proposals for the continued reorganisation and consolidation of the Garda station and district network.

It is important to put the consolidation of our Garda stations into context. Up to this year, the Garda station network was essentially the same as the Royal Irish Constabulary network in 1922, comprising 703 Garda stations. Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate in the present day with a transport and communications infrastructure which 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 across the country provides a better match between Garda availability and policing demand. All of these developments enable the Garda Síochána to be more mobile, responsive and flexible and to deliver a more effective policing service. After the closures in 2013, there will still be 564 Garda stations in the State. That will still be significantly more than comparable jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland, where there are 86 police stations for a population of 1.5 million people, with plans to further reduce this number, or Scotland, with around 340 police stations for a population of 5.2 million.

In contrast to previous Governments, this Government has chosen to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the Garda Síochána by enabling and supporting those measures which are bringing the organisation, structures and service delivery in the Garda Síochána up to the highest possible standard. The objective of consolidating our network of Garda stations is to ensure efficient and effective policing, and this strategy is working. Smart policing is not simply about bricks and mortar. It is about community policing and the visible presence of gardaí on our streets. A total of 39 Garda stations around the country were closed in 2012 and, as a result of this and other measures, more than 160 gardaí were freed up for front-line operational duties. The consolidation of the stations will also mean that where they are State-owned, they will be available for alternative community use or disposal.

Having set out the general context, I will turn to the specific situation in Stepaside. Stepaside is in the Blackrock district in the Dublin metropolitan eastern division and it is approximately 8 km from the district headquarters at Blackrock Garda station and 6 km from Dundrum Garda station. There are 34 members of the Garda Síochána assigned to the Stepaside station. The Commissioner has indicated that these members will, as far as possible, remain in the Blackrock District and be transferred to Dundrum Garda station. The freeing up of gardaí from desk duties in Stepaside Garda station will increase the number of gardaí available for front-line policing, to the benefit of the community in Stepaside.

Deputy Ross has quite an odd view of policing. He seems to think that all of the gardaí simply sit in the station and do nothing until someone telephones them, as he made reference to the distance from Dundrum. Clearly, members attached to that Garda station will assume policing duties across the entirety of the area, including Stepaside; gardaí will be out in patrol cars, and there will be more gardaí available to engage in policing rather than sitting behind desks in the building.

Local Garda management will shortly commence the process of engaging with staff interests and local communities through partnership processes, the joint policing committees and other forums to advise them of the revised policing arrangements for the Stepaside area. The Commissioner has clearly indicated that he is confident that the implementation of the restructuring proposals contained in the 2013 policing plan will not lead to any diminution in the service provided by An Garda Síochána. The move towards more centralised services will facilitate the introduction of enhanced patrolling arrangements which, in turn, will provide increased Garda visibility as well as maintaining existing Garda links with communities throughout the country. The objective will be to ensure that the best possible policing service will continue to be provided in our communities. The Commissioner has concluded, and I fully agree with him, that resources could be better deployed by closing some Garda stations and reducing the public opening hours of others at off-peak times. As a consequence of additional gardaí being freed up from desk duties, there will be an increase in the number available for front-line policing duties.

Despite our financial difficulties, we were able in 2012 to acquire 213 new Garda vehicles at a cost of €4 million. I am very pleased that in 2013 a further €5 million will be made available for the purchase of additional Garda vehicles. The modernisation of the Garda fleet is a crucial part of ongoing reform. It is crucial to good policing in local communities and gardaí being available to patrol local communities. This applies to the Stepaside area as it does to other areas in Dublin South. I am determined, as Minister for Justice and Equality, that the resources of our Garda Síochána are used in the best and most effective and efficient way possible. I believe that Commissioner Martin Callinan is doing an excellent job in bringing about the modernisation and reform of An Garda Síochána and I support him in his work. In so far as any member of Stepaside Garda station has said it will be more difficult to police the area, it is not the view of the Commissioner. Let us be frank about this. If any individual has a difficulty with criminality in his or her area, he or she telephones the Garda.

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