More Garda stations will close, says Shatter

Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 01:00

AGSI CONFERENCE:MINISTER FOR Justice and Defence Alan Shatter is to press ahead with a further round of Garda station closures next year following the current closure programme, during which 39 stations are being shut.

He has asked Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to draw up a second list of locations that could be closed, saying the issue would be addressed in the Garda’s policing plan for 2013, to be published in about six months’ time.

Mr Shatter said he “cannot understand” comments by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), whose president, Páraic Dolan, branded recent closures as “disgraceful”.

Addressing delegates at the opening session of AGSI’s three-day annual conference in Ballymoney, Co Wexford, Mr Shatter told the Garda sergeants and inspectors it would be wrong to maintain the current network of stations simply because “that is always the way they have been”.

“Can anyone plausibly argue that we absolutely need 703 Garda stations in such a small country?” he asked in his address.

He said transport and communications systems had greatly improved since the network of stations was put in place from the foundation of the State and this had negated the need to keep so many of them open. Closure of stations would free up gardaí from manning desks, making more of them available for frontline duties.

He also justified the current programme of greatly reducing the opening hours of other stations, saying there was no argument for having gardaí in stations in the small hours of the morning.

“If people need the gardaí in the middle of the night it is usually for an emergency and they dial 999,” he said.

Mr Shatter described as a “simplistic and inaccurate assessment from abroad”, the appraisal by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) of the US state department that cuts to the Garda had affected policing in the Republic.

The observation on policing standards here was contained in a profile of Ireland for US citizens planning to visit here and was raised by Mr Dolan during his conference address last night. Mr Shatter said he was surprised such a reference by the Americans would even be raised by AGSI’s president at the conference.

While some sergeants and inspectors had expected a muted welcome for Mr Shatter, his speech was applauded in the same manner as ministers before him.

Addressing the media on the issue of criticisms of the Garda in the Mahon tribunal report, Mr Shatter revealed the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was “looking at some aspects of the report”. He declined to comment further, saying he did not want to pre-empt the ombudsman’s work in that regard.

A spokesman for the commission said the agency was not investigating or examining any aspect of the Mahon tribunal’s report.

The tribunal concluded that the Garda was too deferential in the past to figures such as disgraced former politician Ray Burke, who has since settled with the Criminal Assets Bureau and been jailed for crimes relating to his tax affairs.

When asked if a criminal investigation was under way into any matters raised in the Moriarty tribunal final report published a year ago, Mr Shatter could not say.

When repeatedly pressed on whether the Garda was still examining the report to identify matters that might be criminally investigated or if a substantive criminal investigation had already begun, Mr Shatter did not directly address the issue. “I know that this report is being dealt with and being addressed,” he said.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is due to address the conference today.