Check Against Delivery 

Deputy Shane Ross

Reply by Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence - Mr. Alan Shatter TD

I fully appreciate the sensitivities around Garda Station closures and, having dealt with the issue at great length in the House during question time, 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 Garda stations to be closed in 2013, 100 in total, are the result of a comprehensive operational assessment carried out by the Garda Commissioner over the last 12 months. The Policing Plan for 2013, which I laid before the House two weeks ago, outlines the Commissioner's proposals for the continued re-organisation and consolidation of the Garda station and District network.

It is important to put the consolidation of our Garda Stations into context. Up until 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 have 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 with a population of 1.5 million people and it is planned to further reduce this number, or Scotland, where there are around 340 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 these 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 Gardai on our streets. 39 Garda Stations around the country were closed in 2012 and, as a result of this and other measures, over 160 Gardai were freed up for frontline 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 would like to turn to the specific situation in Stepaside. Stepaside is in the Blackrock District in the Dublin Metropolitan Eastern Division and it is approximately 8 kilometres from the District Headquarters at Blackrock Garda Station and 6 kilometres from Dundrum Garda Station. There are 34 members of the Garda Síochána assigned to the Stepaside. The Commissioner has indicated that these members will, insofar as possible, remain in the Blackrock District and will be transferred to Dundrum Garda Station. The freeing up of Gardai from desk duties in Stepaside Garda Station will increase the number of Gardai available for frontline policing to the benefit of the community in Stepaside.

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 fora to advise them of the revised policing arrangements for the Stepaside area. The Garda 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 Gardai being freed up from desk duties, there will be an increase in the number available for frontline 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 €5m will be made available for the purchase of additional Garda vehicles. The modernisation of the Garda fleet is a crucial part of ongoing reform.

I am determined, as Minister for Justice, that the resources of our Garda Siochana are used in the best, 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 Siochana and I support him in his work.