Thursday, 6 November 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Cregan: I am pleased to raise this important issue in the House and I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply. There is a great deal of concern among members of the community in Galbally due to the proposal to demolish the existing Garda station and replace it with a modern one. That might seem a contradiction in terms but I will elaborate.
I warmly welcome the pilot scheme initiated by the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon. There is a great need to replace, to use the Minister's words, old RIC barracks that have become outdated and unsuitable for the needs of the gardaí who operate in them and for the public in gaining access to them. The majority of the locations named by the Minister in the proposal require such action to take place.
I am not sure whether it is a misconception or misinformation but there is a great deal of concern in Galbally because the existing Garda station is not an old RIC type station, it is a relatively modern building which has benefited from the investment of a good deal of State funding in recent years. It also has living accommodation for gardaí who can opt to reside there if they wish. It is not in a condition that warrants being demolished. If the station is not demolished, the proposed new station cannot be sited on the grounds of the existing station, and that is causing a great deal of concern. The people of Galbally, the community council and the local superintendent in Tipperary town are supportive of the view that this station should be dealt with on a different basis. The Minister might seriously consider doing that, given the welcome there is for his proposal to upgrade the other stations.
None of us knows what the new modern Garda station will be like. It has been described as a hut, a box and in various other ways. I am of the opinion that it would not be suitable accommodation for gardaí. A holding cell would not be provided and while it may be a more modern office in terms of the administrative work done by gardaí, it would be a mistake to proceed along the lines the Minister is suggesting. I know the Minister is glad to have the opportunity to clarify the matter for me and I look forward to his response.
Following a recent survey carried out by the Commissioners of Public Works, in excess of 100 Garda stations have been deemed to be of poor quality and in need of major refurbishment. Many of these stations are dispersed throughout the country and consist mostly of older buildings now used as either one man stations or for a small number of hours each week. The cost of refurbishment would be very substantial and cannot be funded from existing resources. Various options have been considered to alleviate this problem. The Commissioners of Public Works consider that the best way forward is to engage in an equity exchange programme with the private sector.
The programme will involve the disposal to private developers of certain Garda stations which would need significant refurbishment to bring them to an acceptable standard, in exchange for alternative good quality premises which meet modern standards. These alternative premises may be either newly built or may be existing buildings that satisfy Office of Public Works specifications and Garda requirements. One of the conditions of this scheme will be that no existing station will be closed or disposed of until a suitable replacement is ready for occupation. As a first step, it is intended to run a pilot scheme covering eight Garda stations clustered in the Tipperary-Limerick area. The Commissioners of Public Works have discussed these stations with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and are awaiting the final agreement of the Garda Commissioner.
The commissioners are currently in the process of selecting a private agent to manage the pilot programme on their behalf. The agent will advise the commissioners on the commercial values of the stations concerned; organise the transfer of the properties; evaluate and make recommendations on proposals received from interested developers; and project-manage the entire pilot programme. The commissioners consider that the equity programme is an innovative way to release value from their portfolio to achieve the necessary objective of upgrading over 100 Garda stations in the most timely and cost efficient manner.
The programme, which is being driven by the Office of Public Works in consultation with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda authorities, is additional to the ongoing Garda maintenance programme and will be of benefit to the gardaí, the local communities and the State. The programme does not involve the closure of any of the Garda stations involved. It is an essential element of the programme that none of the stations involved is closed until the replacement is ready for occupation.
The pilot programme includes Galbally Garda station, County Limerick. This is a two storey building with occupied married quarters located on the edge of the village. The recent survey indicates that the building requires major refurbishment. Renovation work is required to all areas, including general building works, electrics, heating system and fire security. The estimated cost is in excess of €100,000.
Any new building will be built to the exact specifications of both the Garda authorities and Office of Public Works. If living quarters are required by the gardaí, they will be provided. There will be no reduction in the level of Garda operations in Galbally as a result of the programme.
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