Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kehoe: I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity of raising this important matter in the Dáil. I am disappointed that a Minister of State from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not here to listen to me and to address this very important issue. I think no less of Deputy Brendan Smith. Nevertheless, I would have appreciated the presence of a Minister of State from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The Garda car from Courtown Garda station, a substation of Gorey Garda station, was involved in an accident on 17 November 2004, following an attempted robbery of a petrol station. The Garda car crashed outside the boundary of County Wexford.
Courtown Harbour Garda station is one of the busiest in the south east. The Christmas period will see large numbers of holidaymakers in the Courtown area. Gorey is an ever growing town whose population is increasing day by day. The people of Courtown are worried by the lack of visibility of a Garda car in their area, something that has become usual. A number of burglaries and robberies have occurred in Courtown in recent times. A visible Garda car can prevent many of these crimes.
I cannot understand why we must seek a replacement Garda car for such a large area. For many years, the Government has stressed its commitment to law and order but the true attitude of the Government is illustrated by the fact that the people of Courtown must wait for a Garda car. The Government pays lip service to this important issue. The supply of a Garda car to a Garda station is a simple matter.
The Courtown Garda car was crashed on 17 November and has not yet been replaced. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in a reply to my parliamentary question, stated that investigations must be made, an MT15 form completed and the matter investigated by the Garda fleet management section. That is all rubbish. Once a Garda car is out of commission it should be replaced in a matter of days.
I call on the Government to make sure a replacement car is provided before Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year in Courtown. The Garda must have the necessary resources to deal with drunk driving, burglaries and petty crime. The visibility of a Garda car in an area such as Courtown is vitally important. I ask the Minister of State to assure me that this matter will be resolved before the end of the year.
The Deputy raised a specific question, requesting that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform outline the reason for the delay in replacing the car attached to Gorey Garda station. The Deputy’s request is based on the urgency and importance of having this car in place before 23 December in time for the Christmas period.
In the first instance, I understand that the Minister provided the Deputy with a considerable amount of information in a reply to a parliamentary question on this matter only yesterday. The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, that Gorey Garda district has an allocation of nine cars of which three are allocated to Gorey Garda station itself, three to Arklow Garda station, one to Bunclody Garda station, one to Carnew Garda station and one to Courtown Harbour Garda station. The vehicle in question, a Toyota Avensis 1.6, attached to Courtown Harbour Garda station, was involved in a collision on 17 November 2004.
The procedure that follows in the event of a Garda vehicle being involved in an accident is that the Garda driver forwards a completed MT15 form to fleet management section in Garda headquarters. The MT15 is a preliminary report of the accident, which notifies Garda fleet management section of the occurrence of the accident and the circumstances surrounding that accident. The public service vehicle inspector then assesses the damage to determine the viability of repairing or replacing the vehicle. The Minister has been informed that the complete investigation file into the collision has not yet been submitted to the fleet management section but preliminary reports indicate that the vehicle is a write-off. The normal procedures that apply when a vehicle is deemed to be a write-off is that a new vehicle will be issued as soon as possible, subject to availability. If a new vehicle is not available immediately, a temporary replacement may be issued, pending the availability of new vehicles.
The Minister has been informed that one of the cars currently allocated to the Gorey district has been re-allocated to the Courtown Harbour Garda station on a temporary basis and that a replacement car will be issued to the Gorey district as soon as a suitable replacement for the car involved in the collision becomes available.
While the Minister is responsible for providing the money for investment in the Garda fleet, it is a matter for Garda management to decide upon the allocation of the vehicles. The need to allocate additional vehicles or re-allocate vehicles is constantly assessed by the Garda authorities on an ongoing basis. Factors such as population, crime and area are taken into consideration in the process of assessing vehicle allocation or the need for extra transport.
There has been significant investment in the Garda fleet in recent years which has resulted in an increase in the size of the fleet from 1,898 vehicles at the end of 1997 to 2,076 vehicles at present, an increase of 9.4%. To date, more than €10.2 million has been spent on the purchase and delivery of Garda vehicles. The corresponding figures for 2002 and 2003 are €9.6 million and €9.1 million respectively. Further vehicles are on order and the Minister expects that the final end of year figure for the purchase of vehicles for the Garda fleet will be in the region of €14 million. This is a very significant investment in new vehicles which will maximise the safety of members of the Garda Síochána and members of the public in the variety of uses of Garda vehicles. Furthermore the delivery of these vehicles will minimise maintenance costs and improve the re-sale value of Garda vehicles.
The issue of safety of Garda vehicles is a subject that is always uppermost in the Garda authorities’ deliberations on the purchase of vehicles for the Garda fleet. Considerable research has been conducted by the Garda Síochána into the use of various types of vehicles in police forces worldwide and the Minister is aware that there is little difference in general vehicle policy throughout police forces no matter what part of the world they operate in.
Garda management is fully aware of the safety issues surrounding vehicles for members of the force. The Garda fleet management will always endeavour to purchase the safest and most reliable vehicles having regard to national and EU public procurement guidelines and procedures. There have been substantial improvements to vehicles, both in their design and construction, in recent years and in the level of equipment fitted to vehicles to bring them to operational standards. The conspicuity of Garda vehicles has been greatly improved both in quality and design.
Already the Garda has purchased some of the safest vehicles available, including Renaults, Toyotas, SAABs, with five star ENCAP ratings. While the Ford Mondeo, which is a popular car in the Garda fleet, is not five star rated, it has achieved some of the highest marks ever achieved.
In accordance with national public procurement guidelines the Government Supplies Agency has responsibility for the central management of procurement for vehicles. The technical specifications for the supply of vehicles for the Garda fleet are agreed with Garda fleet management. In particular all vehicles purchased for the Garda fleet must comply with all current legislation and the purchase specifications will reflect this fact. The European New Car Assessment Program scores are carefully monitored for any tender competition to purchase vehicles. Vehicles are specified with safety features such as ABS braking, driver and passenger airbags, power steering, central locking, electric windows and anti-shatter film to all glass, which minimises the injury risk to occupants from shattered glass in the event of a collision. These items are specified for all vehicles and can contribute greatly to increased safety and all vehicles purchased in the future will be required to have a minimum of four stars in the ENCAP system.
The steps being taken to ensure the provision of improvements in Garda vehicles are twofold. The Garda Síochána continuously reviews the vehicle specifications to ensure they reflect the needs of the Garda force both in terms of safety and the duties to which they will be assigned. Second, the Garda Commissioner has established a working group, which includes representatives of the GRA and AGSI, to report on the issue of the safety of Garda vehicles.
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