Saturday 17 March 2018

Acting Commissioner denies force put under pressure to reopen Stepaside garda station

Donal Ó Cualáin
Donal Ó Cualáin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Acting Garda Commissioner has denied a review within the force was rigged to ensure the reopening of a garda station in the constituency of Transport Minister Shane Ross.

Donall Ó Cualáin insisted he was not aware of anyone putting pressure on the force to give priority to the reopening of Stepaside Garda Station in south county Dublin.

The station was one of 139 closed since 2011 as a result of cutbacks.

The programme for Government between Fine Gael and Independent TDs committed to the reopening of six stations on a pilot basis and An Garda Síochána was asked to provide a report identifying those which should be picked.

Mr Ó Cualáin told the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today that Stepaside and five others were identified in the interim report by Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll.

However, Stepaside is the only station so far confirmed to reopen and no decision will be made in relation to the other five until the report is finalised in the coming weeks.

Mr Ó Cualáin insisted it was a Garda decision to reopen the station.

“I am not aware that anyone brought pressure to bear,” he said.

Mr Ross engaged in a high profile campaign in relation to the station and the decision to reopen it was announced following a Cabinet meeting in June, at which the interim report was discussed.

The move led to claims there had been favourable treatment for the minister’s pet project.

A month later Mr Ó Cualáin told the PAC he would provide it with a copy of the interim report.

However, he quickly backtracked saying it could not be provided yet.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said the failure to release the report was “totally unacceptable” and “making a mockery of transparency in a public process”.

He asked the Acting Commissioner if the Department of Justice had thrown An Garda Síochána “under the bus” by telling it to do whatever necessary to reopen Stepaside due to political expediency for members of the Cabinet.

Mr Ó Cualáin denied this was the case.

“The only criteria that I consider as commissioner are based on policing needs and requirements,” he said.

The Acting Commissioner apologised to the committee for not providing the report, saying he had made the commitment to do so “in good faith, at the time”.

“However, as the interim report is prepared for the Minister for Justice and Equality, it is a matter for the department to approve the release of the document,” he said.

“It was an error on my part. I apologise for that.”

The PAC heard that Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters had written to it saying it would be inappropriate to release the report at this time. He said they may receive the report in due course, with redactions based on policing and security issues.

Mr Ó Cualáin said it had been easier to reach a conclusion on Stepaside as there were only four former Garda stations which could have been considered in Dublin, compared to 75 others in the rest of the country.

The Acting Commissioner said specific criteria had been set by the Department of Justice and used by Asst Commissioner O’Driscoll to identify the six station.

These were a need to ensure a rural, urban and Dublin dimension to the pilot scheme; due regard to population and crime trends; limiting the choice station to those that remain in State ownership; consideration those which could be opened with least delay; and the impact on the delivery of policing services generally.

He also said input from local Garda management was taken into account.

“That is the piece of work Asst Commissioner O’Driscoll set about. Some aspects of that were very detailed and needed a lot of work to drill down into trends, especially in crime, and population.”

Under questioning from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Ó Cualáin said a decision to prioritise Stepaside for reopening ahead of others was taken by his predecessor, Nóirín O’Sullivan, and that he stood over her decision.

“The reason there was so much information available on Stepaside it was one of four stations that had to be considered by the Deputy Commissioner for the Dublin Metropolitan Region, whereas his colleagues throughout the country had a far bigger number to consider,” he said.

Ms McDonald asked: “Do you actually think that is a credible answer?”

The Acting Commissioner responded: “I am coming here to assist this committee. That is how it happened.”

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