The Acting Garda Commissioner faced two hours of questioning at an Oireachtas committee today as to why Stepaside, in the constituency of Minister for Transport Shane Ross, was the only closed garda station being reopened.
Dónall Ó Cualáin told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that an interim garda report had recommended that six stations be reopened on the basis of criteria such as crime and population trends, whether they were still in State ownership, and in Dublin, rural or other urban areas.
He said gardaí also took the opportunity to seek another four stations from Government, including two brand new builds.
However TDs and senators criticised the fact that Stepaside was the only one proceeding at present.
Fianna Fáil’s Shane Cassells pointed out the high crime rate in Meath, while party colleague Marc MacSharry pointed out that the cells in the regional station in Sligo cannot be used and prisoners have to be transported to Ballymote.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Cabinet had “cherry picked” from the report and given Stepaside the go-ahead over Rush, which was also on the list.
The acting commissioner said he “absolutely” stood over the decision to reopen Stepaside and apologised that he could not give the committee a report on the matter.
Mr Ó Cualáin had told a PAC meeting in July that an internal report would be published in a matter of days, but it has so far not been released.
The acting commissioner was summoned back before the PAC this morning to explain why the report had not been published.
THE ACTING COMMISSIONER of An Garda Síochána Dónall Ó Cualáin has apologised to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the delay in the publishing of an interim report into the re-opening of Garda stations around Ireland.
Giving what committee member Shane Cassells described as “one of the shortest opening statements this committee has seen”, Ó Cualáin said simply “I accept that commitment was made (to provide the report in July), but the commitment was made in error”.
It was an error on my part, made in good faith.
He said that the process of re-opening Stepaside Garda Station in south Dublin (one of the key regional commitments of Minister for Transport, and local TD, Shane Ross) has already begun.
In June, Ross confirmed that Stepaside will reopen. It is one of 113 stations closed since 2011.
The key issue surrounding the delay of the publication of the report appears to be over a discrepancy between whether Stepaside is to be reopened in isolation, or whether five others will also be made operational again at the same time.
The acting Commissioner said that no decision has yet been made to re-open six Garda stations, despite the commitment to do so being included in the programme for government.
Cassells stated that the gardaí’s refusal to release the report into the re-opening of the stations is “a blow to transparency”, and cited the fact that an increase in crime is being seen in his own county of Meath is an indicator that the need to re-open Garda stations is of the utmost importance.
As regards why Stepaside was deemed necessary for reopening, Ó Cualáin said that he “does not have the authority to tell TDs why Stepaside, in particular, was chosen for reopening”.
He did acknowledge that the decision to re-open a station is the Commissioner’s to make. He also said that ‘to his recollection’ four stations were initially under consideration for re-opening when the process began.
He said that, given the report into the reopening of stations was commissioned by the Minister for Justice, then it is up to that minister to release it.
“The final report will be released in the coming weeks and when that happens we will have clarity on the reopening of the six stations.”
The secretary general of the Department of Justice Noel Waters has confirmed, in a recent letter to the PAC, that it would be inappropriate for the department to release the report into the reopenings before it is finalised.
Asked whether or not he thought the re-opening of Stepaside could have been handled in a better fashion, Ó Cualáin replied:
“The only criteria I apply in doing my duty is Garda operational considerations. I’m aware of politics, but I can’t get involved in it.”