Thursday, 20 October 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
4. Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason the Garda Síochána must continue to operate a radio communications system which is insecure and totally out of date; his views on whether this continues to place the Garda Síochána at a continual disadvantage in the fight against crime; and the further reason the pilot digital radio system successfully piloted in two areas of Dublin some years ago has not been rolled out nationally. [29916/05]
Mr. McDowell: I have always recognised the need to provide the Garda Síochána with secure radio communication systems. As the Deputy is aware, a pilot digital radio system covering the Dublin north central division and traffic section, Dublin Castle, has been completed by the Garda Síochána. Following its completion the Garda Síochána prepared and submitted to me a detailed business case for the provision of a nationwide system.
Following discussions between officials of my Department, the Garda Síochána and the Department of Finance on the technical and implementation options in the business case, as well as discussions surrounding the funding for the project, it was agreed that a procurement model based on an outsourced service provision be adopted. The rationale behind this decision is two-fold. First, it will minimise the need for members of the Garda Síochána to support and maintain the system — in other words, the private sector will operate and support the system. This is in line with my overall policy of ensuring that Garda resources are concentrated on operational duties. Second, the approach being adopted should allow participation by the other emergency services, thus enabling all emergency services to communicate with one another in the context of major emergencies and other shared or joint operations, or ordinary blue light activity by the emergency services.
I estimated that the cost of this project could have been well over €100 million. I made the decision that instead of venturing into the acquisition of a communications system at that cost, the appropriate action was to rent an effective system from people whose job it would be to ensure it remained effective and, in that way, to avoid a massive capital expenditure by the State on a one-off basis.
Mr. McDowell: The contract is now the subject matter of a tender procedure which I hope will be concluded in the next few weeks. I hope after that we will be in a position to sign a contract with the successful tenderer for the roll-out of a national digital radio system for the Garda Síochána.
Mr. J. O’Keeffe: Does the Minister accept the present walkie-talkie system is over 20 years old? Does he accept the pilot scheme to which he referred was completed over three years ago? Does he accept the Garda Commissioner submitted the business plan and the case almost two years ago? Does he accept that when I raised this issue as a matter of urgency a year ago, he told me a tender was to issue to the marketplace to be finalised in the new year?
Does he accept that as of now, the hands of gardaí are tied from the point of view of their fight against crime because of an utterly out-of-date communications system and that their only way of communicating in many instances is by using their own private mobile telephones where there is coverage? Does he accept that this issue was strongly pressed by the Garda Representative Association, GRA, recently when it said the current radio system was in a decrepit condition, on the verge of total collapse and that the members of the Garda Síochána were utterly hampered in their fight against crime because of the delays in installing this modern, up-to-date system? I agree the system should be installed but there is no excuse for the incredible delay.
Mr. McDowell: I am the Minister who is dealing with this issue. I have avoided the pitfall which was put to me of purchasing an entire system with a huge capital outlay. I have decided instead do it on an outsourced, service basis so that the Garda will have a proper system. If there is anything wrong with it, it will fall to the account of the service provider and not the Garda.
I fully accept the point the Deputy made about the need for such a system. It surprised me on coming into office that it had been left undone for so long. I am doing this in the appropriate way and, what is more, I am doing it in a way which is fully integrated with the blue light services. The roll-out of this service will commence in 2006. I am pleased to say I am doing what many Ministers thought about.
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