Cuts to local Garda services

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Earlier this afternoon in the Seanad I rasied the issue of cuts to local Garda services in the Dublin North East area. My speech and the reply from Minister of State Paul Kehoe are below

 

Senator Averil Power: I would like to raise a very serious issue, namely rumoured cuts to the Garda Budget in 2011 and beyond and the impact that these would have on services to the people of Dublin North East.

Earlier this year we were privileged to welcome both President Obama and Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. I understand that the policing aspects of the two visits came to €35 million. However, there is no doubt that the benefits – in terms of tourism and other aspects of the Irish economy – far outweighed the costs.

At the time we were led by the Government to believe that extra funding would be provided for the Garda Budget in 2011 to avoid having to make cuts in normal Garda services in order to cover the costs of the State visits. It is appropriate, given the net gain to the exchequer from the State visits, that money be provided from other areas to ensure that we can preserve our policing strength this year.

Indeed, the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said in May that he and the Government were “anxious to ensure that the capacity of the Gardaí to provide a full and proper service….would not be in any way be impaired” by the cost of the State visits.

Yet, some five months later it has emerged that there is so still no agreement between Minister Shatter and his colleague Brendan Howlin, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, for extra funding to be given to the Gardai this year.

On the contrary, it looks like funding may not in fact be provided as promised earlier in the year and that cuts may have to be made in frontline services as a result.

Minister Shatter also told the Dail on Tuesday that he has asked the Garda Commissioner to examine the possibility of making savings in the Garda Budget for 2012 and beyond by cutting the opening hours of some Garda stations and closing others.

There have been media reports that Howth and Malahide stations are being considered for the chop by the Government. I would be extremely concerned about cuts to these stations, as would my colleague Darragh O’Brien from the North Dublin area. The Malahide station serves both Portmarnock and the Malahide hinterland.

While there have been proposals in the past to close small rural stations with only one Garda, stations where the community could benefit more from having that Garda out on the beat all the time rather than based in an office. The idea of closing large stations has never been seriously considered.

Malahide Garda station has 36 Gardaí, while Howth has 40. These are large stations serving busy urban areas. Together with the Garda stations in Raheny and Coolock, they provide an invaluable service to the people of Dublin North East.

I would like to ask the Minister to answer two simple questions in the House today:

First, Will extra funding be provided for the Garda budget in 2011 to cover the cost of the State visits and avoid cuts in frontline services?

Second, will the Minister and the Government rule out the closure or downgrading of the Garda stations serving the Dublin North East area?

Local garda stations provide an important resource to a local community. In the context of a recession, if you cut money now, you’ll end up paying for it in the long term.

 

Response from Paul Kehoe: The Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, has asked me to thank the Senator for raising this matter, as it provides him with an opportunity to clarify the position on the important topic she has highlighted. 

It is important to put in context the matter raised by the Senator. Under plans agreed by the previous Government as part of its compliance with the terms of the EU-IMF agreement, Garda numbers are to be reduced to 13,500 by the end of this year and by a further 500 to 13,000 by 2014.  However, what will ultimately determine the sustainable level of Garda numbers is the level of budgetary provision that can be made for the force in the coming years.  Difficult decisions will have to be made right across the public sector to bring the public finances back into balance.  This means the Garda Síochána, like every other public sector body, is going to have to manage with reduced resources.  The Garda Commissioner is, therefore, reviewing all aspects of policing operations, including the deployment of personnel, the utilisation of modern technologies and the operation of Garda stations.  No decision has been taken on the closure of any Garda station or a reduction of public opening hours in some stations.  However, the Garda Commissioner will have to address these issues as part of the review.  He may have to consider whether, in appropriate cases, a better policing service could be delivered to a local community by having Garda members out on patrol rather than in a station.  The Minister will carefully consider the outcome of the review and the Garda Commissioner’s policing plan for next year with the objective of ensuring priority is given to the maintenance of front-line Garda services at the highest level possible.

  On behalf of the Minister, I pay tribute to the Garda Síochána at this particularly difficult time for the commitment and professionalism it displays in carrying out its duties, as exemplified recently by the selfless sacrifice made by Garda Ciarán Jones.  The Minister is confident that the Garda will continue to maintain the confidence of the public and operate successfully, as it has been doing so effectively since the foundation of the State.

 

Senator Averil Power: I note the Minister of State did not rule out the closure of Howth or Malahide Garda stations.  I would like to rephrase the question and put it to the Minister again. Has the Government a list of Garda stations in north-east Dublin that it is considering for closure or downgrading?  While I accept the Minister of State claims no final decision has been made, when it is, it will be too late for people in the area to make their dissatisfaction clear to the Government.

  Will the Minister of State confirm if extra money will be given to the Garda to cover the cost of the State visits during the summer, as originally promised, so as to avoid cuts to front-line services in the rest of 2011?

 

Minister: The Department of Justice and Equality is in discussions with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, with the Garda Commissioner, on dealing with the cost of the State visits.  We are faced with difficult economic challenges, passed on to us by the previous Government, and money is not that freely available.  However, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, is following up on the issue of these costs.

  As I stated, the Garda Commissioner and Garda management are reviewing policing operations.  When the review is completed, the Minister will let both Houses know — he has stated he will leave no Member in the dark — when he has made a decision, unlike the previous Government which did not inform either Members or the public about decisions it had made to cut services or the reasons behind them.

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