Thursday 14 December 2017

Shane Ross faces flak over Garda station 'stroke politics'

Shane Ross and Cllr for Glencullen/Sandyford Kevin Daly at the reopening of Stepaside Garda station. Photos: Justin Farrelly
Shane Ross and Cllr for Glencullen/Sandyford Kevin Daly at the reopening of Stepaside Garda station. Photos: Justin Farrelly

Kevin Doyle, Cormac McQuinn and Ralph Riegel

Transport Minister Shane Ross stands accused of 'stroke politics' after securing the reopening of a local Garda station during Enda Kenny's final Cabinet meeting.

Mr Ross's campaign for Stepaside Garda station in South Dublin came to fruition moments before Mr Kenny formally told the Dáil of his resignation.

But it has emerged the Cabinet held off selecting five other stations to reopen until they receive a full report from the Garda Commissioner at the end of the month.

Ministers conducted an unusually high level of business at yesterday's meeting, also nominating the Attorney General as a judge in the second highest court in the country.

Mr Ross previously railed against the process of judicial appointments that could be perceived as 'cronyism'. However, when asked about Máire Whelan's nomination to the Court of Appeal, his spokesperson said: "He did point out at Cabinet that he didn't like the process, but he went along with it."

The Cabinet also approved the end of the Good Friday ban on pubs opening and decided not to increase the mandatory set-back distance for high-powered wind turbines.

And in a move that personally pleased Mr Kenny, who is also Defence Minister, it was agreed to award a medal to the men who fought in the Siege of Jadotville in 1961. Government sources admitted there was a "clearing of the decks" before incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces his new ministerial line-up today.

But it is the reopening of Stepaside Garda station that stood out.

Sources close to the new Fine Gael leader last night insisted there was no special deal done on the issue with Mr Ross during their meetings last week.

The Programme for Government commits to reopening six out of 139 stations that were closed as cost-saving measures in 2011 and 2012.

Last year, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was asked to identify stations suitable for reopening, based on crime trends and population.

Ms O'Sullivan is just a fortnight away from finalising her review - but decided to provide the Cabinet with an interim report this week.

It concluded that Stepaside should be reopened, and possibly Rush in north Dublin.

The Commissioner also indicated she is likely to recommend the reopening of Leighlinbridge, in Co Carlow, and Donard, in Co Wicklow. Two other stations have yet to be identified. As a result of the interim report, the Cabinet agreed "in principle" to reopen Stepaside and parked all other decisions on the issue.

However, Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin told the Seanad: "This from the minister, Deputy Ross, who apparently came into politics to get rid of stroke politics, wants an independent judiciary and does not want to have any political interference in the judicial system, yet is now able to announce just as the new Cabinet is going to be announced that he himself has gotten his Garda station reopened."

The Social Democrats attacked Mr Ross for not opposing the "naked political appointment" of Ms Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

Róisín Shortall described the move as "the height of hypocrisy from a Government that is supposed to be introducing a law to take politics out of the appointment of judges".

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said rural areas would now rightly question why they should be treated any differently.

"It has been clear to us from day one that this policy of Garda station closures was very dangerous," he said.

"We can now see exactly the serious impact the policy has had on rural communities. Towns across the country feel increasingly isolated and more vulnerable to criminals."

Irish Independent

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