Thursday, 15 December 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator John Kelly: I also welcome the Minister and I am only sorry I was obliged to bring him back here today because he dealt with two similar Adjournment matters yesterday. I wish to raise the proposed closure of the Garda stations at Loughglynn and Tarmonbarry, County Roscommon. On foot of his responses to other Members yesterday, I accept this is not a cost-saving measure. However, some of the recommendations by senior gardaí are flawed in respect of some of the Garda stations they have selected for closure. In the case of Loughglynn, it is a little village close to my home town of Ballaghaderreen, where two gardaí were shot dead in 1980. It is a one-man station and the garda there is retiring. What amazes me in this case is that although this man is ready to retire, the Office of Public Works is spending €80,000 on renovations to the same building and there is something fundamentally wrong with that.
I believe a major mistake is being made in respect of Tarmonbarry Garda station. Nobody is retiring in this case. Tarmonbarry is one of three gateways to the west, the others being Athlone and Carrick-on-Shannon. However, Tarmonbarry is the main one.
The projected savings by closing Tarmonbarry Garda station is €3,000 to €4,000 per annum while €80,000 is being spent at Loughglynn Garda station. Some 20 years ago there was one sergeant and five gardaí in Tarmonbarry village dealing with 18 houses. Today there are 400 houses in Tarmonbarry and only one garda who is not proposing to retire.
Recently in Tarmonbarry a German couple were tied up and robbed. The incident got national coverage on television and were it not for the quick action of the local gardaí, the offenders would have got away. Obviously rural Ireland is a target for Dublin criminals. This happens regularly, with rural post offices being robbed. Six months ago my sister, who works in a small post office, was held at gunpoint, tied up and robbed by a Dublin gang. They were apprehended on their way towards Tarmonbarry, thank God. Many other post offices in County Roscommon have been robbed by Dublin gangs. Down through the years many of these gangs have been apprehended in Tarmonbarry which straddles the River Shannon. Given that they have to get back to Dublin — there are three routes — 90% return by Tarmonbarry. I have spoken to a senior garda source and he thinks that the decision to close many of the Garda stations is flawed.
Another mistake made recently was that Tarmonbarry Garda station was taken out of the control of the Longford Garda division and put under the control of the Boyle Garda division. That is another reason there should be a manned station in Tarmonbarry. Longford is no more than five or six minutes from Tarmonbarry whereas Boyle is 45 minutes from Tarmonbarry. The bottom line is that we do not want to send a signal to the criminals who come and rob rural areas that we are open for business to them.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I thank the Senator for raising the issue. However, I do not think that a single garda in a station in Tarmonbarry can provide protection for the local community from criminal gangs. It requires a great deal more than that from the Garda Síochána than can be undertaken by any single member of the Garda, no matter how dedicated.
A similar issue was raised in the House yesterday, as the Senator mentioned, in respect of the closure of Corrandulla Garda station in Galway. Many of the points I made then equally apply to the closure of Tarmonbarry and Loughglynn Garda stations. Notwithstanding this, the Garda Commissioner and I are fully aware of the potential impact of the closure of any Garda station on the community it serves. This is why local Garda management in places where a station is going to close will consult local communities to determine how best to continue to deliver a policing service in their area. It is also the reason the Commissioner has reiterated the commitment of the Garda Síochána to providing a professional and effective service for the community in all areas of the country, including Loughglynn and Tarmonbarry.
As the Senator is aware I recently laid before this House the policing plan for 2012. This plan, prepared by the Garda Commissioner under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, sets out the proposed arrangements for the policing of the State during the coming year. Under that plan, 31 Garda stations will be closed from 2012 and a further eight stations which are currently non-operational will be formally closed. Tarmonbarry and Loughglynn Garda stations are among the 31 stations due to close in 2012. In addition, the public opening hours of ten other stations will be reduced. These stations currently open to the public on a 24 hour basis but, in future, will be open to the public from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day.
In reaching these decisions the Commissioner reviewed all aspects of the Garda Síochána policing model, including the deployment of personnel, the utilisation of modern technologies, the operation of Garda stations in terms of opening hours, and possible closures. Additional divisional offices were asked to assess the level of activity in each Garda station in their area. Based on all the evidence, the Commissioner concluded the resources could be better deployed and more effectively used on the front line. These particular stations no longer had to be staffed and maintained. This is a very important point as with every other public sector organisation, the Garda Síochána will have to manage with reduced resources.
The House will be aware that Garda numbers are being reduced under plans agreed by the previous Government arising from the commitments made in the EU-IMF agreement. It is vital, therefore, that the best use is made of the available resources and, in particular, that priority is given to front-line operational duties. Both Tarmonbarry and Loughglynn Garda stations are in the Roscommon-Longford Garda division. Tarmonbarry is in the Boyle district, as mentioned, which has a total complement of 38 gardaí at all ranks. Loughglynn is in the Castlerea district which has a complement of 48 gardaí at all ranks. The divisional strength is 291. These divisional resources are augmented, as necessary, by national units such as the Garda national drugs unit and the National Bureau for Criminal Investigation.
I pay tribute to the Garda Síochána, as I did yesterday. I have complete confidence in the capacity of the force to continue to provide an excellent policing service in the communities affected by all the closures, including Tarmonbarry and Loughglynn. The Garda Commissioner should have the support of the House as he introduces necessary reforms to ensure that Garda resources are used as effectively as possible in order that the best possible policing service is provided for the public. In that context, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I have to be guided by the operational assessments and decisions made by the Garda Commissioner. As Minister, it would not be appropriate that I would second-guess a decision of the Commissioner in regard to operational matters.
In regard to two matters raised by the Senator, each of the Garda stations being closed is in the ownership of the Office of Public Works and are important assets owned by the State. Work is taking place on some of those properties to ensure they are maintained in a proper condition because it is intended that the properties will be sold or used for other purposes and, where appropriate, utilised to provide community services, provided no further additional expenditure falls on the State thereafter. There is a responsibility to ensure the premises do not fall into disrepair, are maintained in good condition and, where there are roofing issues, they are addressed in order that buildings do not deteriorate and an asset is not lost.
I regret to learn of the experience of the Senator’s sister in the appalling incident he described. Unfortunately, a number of people throughout the country have been affected by similar incidents. I was interested to hear the Senator say that the gang involved were intercepted following the incident. A number of such incidents have been successfully investigated by the Garda Síochána and have resulted in prosecutions being undertaken. A number of individuals who have engaged in that type of criminality are guests of longevity of the State within the prisons.
Senator John Kelly: I do not accept that one well trained garda would not be able to do enough to thwart criminals crossing a narrow bridge in Tarmonbarry. The Boyle Garda division, despite all its personnel, is 45 minutes away from Tarmonbarry. It is not necessarily true that a Garda Commissioner or whoever makes decisions at the highest level always gets it 100% right. This particular decision is flawed. I am amazed that 20 years ago, when there were 18 houses in Tarmonbarry, it was possible to have a sergeant and five gardaí in the station. Today, with more than 400 houses, the station is manned by one garda and now the one garda is being taken away. I appreciate the Minister is accepting the advice of the Garda Commissioner but I ask the Minister to ask the Commissioner to review the decision to close Tarmonbarry Garda station.
Deputy Alan Shatter: There are 703 Garda stations throughout the country which developed piecemeal. There was no plan in respect of their creation by this or previous Governments. In 2001, Northern Ireland had 140 police stations. The PSNI has 83 stations and under its reforming measures it is envisaged that approximately a further 35 stations will close in the period leading into 2015. The reality is that we have to take account of the fact that times have moved on. We have more modern communications systems and better intelligence than in the past. However meritorious and dedicated is the service of a single garda in a single station, it is not the efficient way to address organised crime. This change removes a member of the force from desk duty in a station which has limited footfall and facilitiates that member being used in front-line services.
I have to respect the statutory operational role of the Garda Commissioner in making operational decisions. While I sympathise and understand the Senator’s concerns I do not want to give him any false comfort in this matter. The Garda Commissioner has conducted an overall review. He has reached a conclusion based on an operational assessment that there is no operational benefit to the Garda in keeping this station open. I have to respect that decision. I am not in a position to have that decision reviewed. The 31 stations being closed this year I anticipate are a prelude to further consolidation of Garda stations across the country to ensure our resources are more efficiently used and gardaí can be better used on the front line to the benefit of local communities.
It is the Commissioner’s absolute commitment to me that in communities where stations close he will ensure that all necessary arrangements are made to maintain a high and necessary level of policing. Where required, he will consult local communities to give them such additional information as they require and to receive from them such comment and information as they wish to share with him or those working under him to contribute to policing.
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