Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
76. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to his comments at the AGSI conference, when he intends to publish the list of garda stations he intends to propose for closure in 2013; the number of stations the Garda Commissioner proposed for closure in 2012 versus the amount that have actually been closed; the projected savings in 2012 from the stations that have been closed; if the new garda roster changes will impact on the proposed number of station closures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22619/12]
Deputy Alan Shatter: Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner must, before November each year, submit a policing plan for the following year to the Minister. The Commissioner must include in that plan any proposal to either open or close a Garda station. It will, therefore, be towards the end of this year before the Policing Plan for 2013 is received, approved and published.
Members will be aware that the Garda Commissioner proposed the closure of 39 Garda stations in his Policing Plan 2012, many of which were only open for limited periods, eight of which were non-operational, some for many years, and one of which had been non-operational since 1985. Almost all of the closures have taken place and the process will be completed by end June this year. In commenting on these proposals in the policing plan the Garda Commissioner said, “These decisions were only made after careful analysis and research and I am confident that this action will result in a more efficient delivery of policing services”.
It is not practical to give a precise figure for the savings resulting from the closure of Garda stations. Savings on heating and lighting bills would be minor and would vary from station to station and savings resulting from avoidance of repair bills would vary depending on the condition of stations and would be difficult to calculate. The key point is that the closures are not about minor savings but the more effective deployment of gardaí on operational duties. The issue is whether for any given Garda force strength we want more gardaí in stations or more gardaí on operational duties.
Critics of these closures are in effect arguing that we should not close even one of the 703 garda stations that have been, more or less, in place since the foundation of the State, despite the revolution that has taken place in transport, communications and technology since then. Not only do they not accept these realities or the professional judgment of the Garda Commissioner about how best to deploy gardaí but they ignore the international evidence. For example, Scotland, with a population of 5.2 million people — a directly comparable jurisdiction in many ways — has only 306 stations, which is less than half the 703 garda stations we had at the beginning of this year.
I fully support the Garda Commissioner in his efforts to deploy gardaí more effectively so as to enhance the policing service. In that context, it is worth noting that new garda rosters were introduced last week on a pilot basis. These new rosters, which are separate and distinct from the issue of rationalising the station network, have been developed following detailed consultations between Garda management and the Garda representative associations under the Croke Park agreement. They are designed to maximise the deployment of gardaí at times of peak demand, while at the same time improving the work-life balance of members. This is another example of improved efficiency and effectiveness in the Garda Síochána which we should all support.
Deputy Dara Calleary: I have no difficulty with non-operational stations being officially closed. However, while two of the four stations closed in my county were non-operational two others were operational in busy communities, one of which the Government and previous Administration invested in by way of a major tourism initiative and which is drawing in 50,000 people.
Last week the Garda Commissioner said Garda station closures will affect rural areas but they also affect metropolitan areas. Two stations have been closed on the north side of this city and people will be affected. We are all for more gardaí on the street but we will not be able to measure that until the end of this year. The reason we keep asking the Minister is that it was not the Garda Commissioner who went to the AGSI conference and announced more closures; it was the Minister. He is becoming a bit of a cheerleader for closing these stations but when the political heat is turned on, it is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. Will the Minister clarify that the Garda Commissioner presents him with the list and that he makes the call on it?
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Deputy is, of course, right in saying the Garda Commissioner presents me with a policing plan and that it is for me to approve it. I rely on the Garda Commissioner’s expertise in making operational judgments in these matters. To come back to what I said earlier, we had 703 Garda stations at the beginning of this year. A comparable jurisdiction, Scotland, with a higher population, has 360 police stations. In 2000, there were in the region of 160 police stations in Northern Ireland but today, it has 80 and it is reviewing the numbers there with a projected possible number of stations by 2014-2015 of somewhere between 45 to 50.
It is not in the interests of the community for members of the Garda force to sit in stations; it about them being engaged in front line policing for which they are trained. If the Garda Commissioner judges that members of the force can better fulfil the public obligations and duties of the force by being engaged in front line policing rather than sitting behind desks in buildings, I will fully support him in those decisions.
The Deputy is right that I said at the GRA conference that I anticipated there would be further station closures. Based on the implementation of all the closures taking place, we will be left with 664 stations which is practically double the current number in Scotland. I anticipate it is likely in the policing plan we will receive at the end of the year that there will be a proposal for more stations closures to ensure resources are used more effectively and to ensure the skills of front line, well-trained police officers are used to protect the community rather than have them simply sitting in stations which have no recognised operational value in the context of the Garda Commissioner’s view. When it comes to how many may be closed or what the position will be in 2013, I will substantially rely on the Commissioner’s expertise in that context.
Deputy Dara Calleary: The other part of the question was about the new Garda rosters. There is a later question on that but we may not get to it. How will that impact on stations and on operational issues?
Deputy Alan Shatter: I think everyone forgets that currently we have approximately 2,000 civilians working within the Garda force. We also have 935 members of the Garda Reserve, which did not exist some years ago. As Deputy O’Brien knows, because of current economic circumstances, we are not in a position to expand employment in these areas. However, they are backups which the gardaí would not have had available to them a decade ago at those levels and it is easy to ignore them.
In regard to the Garda rosters, I very much welcome the fact the new rosters have come into force. I thank the representative organisations for their co-operation in the discussions that have taken place to bring the Garda rosters into force. It is early days but I am advised that the roster system is working extremely well and that it is having the benefit that members of the force are now available on days of the week when the most need arises and that there is a new focus in the manner in which policing can take place.
I think they are also more user-friendly for members of the force. I was fortunate this week to have had conversations with a couple of members of the force who told me how beneficial they found the rosters. I did not go looking for the conversations, but the members spoke to me about the new hours and how those impact on their lives. It has been a successful start to the new rostering system. The roster is to the benefit of the community, ensures that we use our resources more wisely and in a more targeted way and will provide for a better work-life experience for members of An Garda Síochána.
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