| 16.3°C Dublin

Gardai get €27m towards bill for state visits

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter had a partial victory yesterday in his battle with Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin over the €36m garda bill for the visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama.

Thousands of gardai were involved in the security operation for the two visits last May, leading to a massive bill for overtime, accommodation costs, catering and equipment.

Mr Howlin had insisted the gardai must cover the €36m from their own budget and, at one stage, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there would be no extra funds -- known as a supplementary estimate -- for the gardai.

But yesterday, Mr Shatter confirmed that a supplementary estimate of €27m will be provided to fill the hole in the garda budget, on top of other additional savings.

"The positive impacts of the visits, which were beamed around the world, most notably to the USA and England, were enormous," he said.

But Mr Shatter did not succeed in persuading Mr Howlin, who is responsible for the public payroll, to cover the entire bill.

Around €12m of the extra €27m he secured for the garda budget will go straight back to the Exchequer to pay a tax settlement with the Revenue on garda allowances.

And Mr Shatter confirmed that gardai would now have to pay tax on these boot, uniform and plain clothes allowances from January 1.

Mr Shatter has a report by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan recommending the closure of a number of garda stations.

Mr Callinan said it would not be "anywhere near" a figure of 200 rural stations that had been previously been speculated.

He said the savings from closing small garda stations would be minimal at about €2,500 to €4,000 per station -- as no gardai would be let go.

"It's about efficiency, it's not about costs. It's a very emotive subject and we are absolutely alive to those sensibilities," he said.

But Fine Gael Cork North West TD Michael Creed said it would only take the "cost of a lightbulb" to keep many rural garda stations open.

His party colleague, David Stanton, said people feared their area would be "swamped with criminality" if their station was closed.

At the earlier meeting of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Mr Callinan said he expected 490 gardai to have retired by the end of this year, and another 150 before the end of the "grace period" that will allow them to retire on full public sector pensions up to next February.

He said that gardai still had the resources to provide an effective service -- but warned that the use of cannabis and heroin was back on the rise.

Irish Independent