Peter Fitzpatrick - Reduction in Garda Resources in Dundalk District is not acceptable

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, I wish to thank the Deputy for raising this matter of significant public importance. Unfortunately the Minister cannot be hear to speak on this issue himself as he is chairing a Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial meeting in Brussels and he has asked me to address this issue on his behalf.

The House will be aware that the Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel and transport, throughout the organisation and the Minister has no direct function in the matter. This allocation of resources is constantly monitored by the Commissioner and his senior management in the context of demographics, 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.

Garda numbers have been reducing due to the moratorium on recruitment introduced by the previous Government and the current strength is just under 13,400. It is the Minister’s objective, despite the enormous financial issues facing the Government and the overall reduction in public service numbers, to ensure that Garda numbers will not fall below 13,000. He will be bringing relevant proposals to Cabinet in the coming weeks to give effect to that.

Specifically in relation to Dundalk Garda District, which is in the Louth Division, the Commissioner has informed the Minister that there are 149 Gardaí, 45 Garda Reserves and 23 civilian staff assigned there. These resources are further augmented where necessary by a number of Garda National Units such as the Garda Traffic Unit, Garda National Drugs Unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations, the Criminal Assets Bureau and other specialised units.

There are also 20 vehicles assigned to that District and again these are augmented as appropriate and when required from Divisional and Regional resources.

It goes without saying that no Minister would choose the appalling financial position in which we have to operate at present. In that context, the legacy the last Fianna Fáil-led government bequeathed to the country included a series of expenditure ceilings for the Justice Sector which, if applied, would have resulted in devastating cuts in Garda services which the Minister would not and could not stand over.

That Fianna Fáil National Recovery Plan was unacceptable and would certainly have put the Garda Commissioner in an impossible position. Fortunately, the Minister was able to secure additional funding over the three year period, 2012-2014, to ensure that the Garda Commissioner, and indeed An Garda Síochána, could continue to deliver an effective policing service.

The Minister has already recorded in this House the additional resources that have been made available in that three year period. Overall, had the Minister not obtained this additional finance, the Gardaí would have stood to lose an average of €90 million each year under the Fianna Fáil plan over the years 2012 to 2014.

In 2013 the Garda financial allocation, which in gross terms amounts to over €1.4 billion, is a substantial amount of money and I can assure the Deputy, and the House, that this allocation will be spent in the most efficient and effective way with the emphasis on the delivery of front-line services. In that general context, a budget of €5 million has been made available in 2013 for the purchase of additional Garda vehicles and, indeed, the modernisation of the Garda fleet is a crucial part of supporting policing operations throughout the State.

The Minister is determined that the resources of An Garda Síochána will be used in the best, most effective and efficient way possible. The Minster is confident that the primary Garda objective of combating crime will continue to be achieved, and that, despite the pressure on the public finances, it will be possible for the Force to operate to the optimum benefit of our communities in a manner that will facilitate the prevention and detection of offences.