Sunday 21 January 2018

Taoiseach has no objection to publication of garda station re-opening report

  • Taoiseach brushes aside suggestions of 'stroke politics'

  • 'I don't see any reason why it couldn't be published' - Taoiseach on garda station reopening report

  • 'Decision to reopen Stepaside garda station was infected' - PAC chairman

  • Government 'interfered and infected' garda process concerning reopening of garda stations - PAC chairman Sean Fleming
  • 'I think that the politicians, for political reasons, overly influenced the garda decision' - Fleming
(Brian Lawless/PA)
(Brian Lawless/PA)

Cormac McQuinn and Laura Larkin

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has brushed aside suggestions that the plan to reopen Stepaside Garda Station is "stroke politics", and said he's not opposed to the Garda interim report on the controversial decision being published.

The issue is at the centre of controversy as the reopening of the station was a demand of Independent Alliance minister Shane Ross who represents Dublin Rathdown, which includes Stepaside.

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

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.

Mr Varadkar is in Tallinn, Estonia today to attend an EU digital summit and was asked if the planned reopening of the station amounted to stRoke politics.

Mr Varadkar replied: "Look anyone who reads the programme for government will see that there was negotiated, and contained [in it] a commitment to open six new Garda stations on a pilot basis.

"Those six have been identified and they're going to be opened.

"Stepaside is not yet opened but it will be."

The Department of Justice has so far declined to publish the interim Garda report that recommended Stepaside as one of the locations arguing that it would be inappropriate to do so at this time.

Mr Varadkar said he has "no objection" to the report being released.

He added: "I don't see any reason why it couldn't be published, but they may have a good reason not to do so."

Earlier this morning, the head of the Public Accounts Committee has accused the Government of "interfering" and "infecting" a garda decision concerning the re-opening of closed stations.

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

Sean Fleming, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the decision to re-open Stepaside Garda Station was "infected".

However Minister Ross has denied this and spoke on the subject again this week saying; "Was it stroke politics? The answer to that is absolutely no."

The report, which has not been published by the Department of Justice, also flagged four other stations for re-opening and two other locations identified for new stations.

No decisions were announced about the four other locations when Stepaside was confirmed after the June cabinet meeting.

Mr Fleming said acting Garda Commissioner Donall O Cualain gave a very factual presentation on the report into the re-opening of the stations to PAC yesterday and said he accepted the Acting Commissioner's assertion that the decision was made on policing.

However, he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that he believed the government was "using and abusing" An Garda Siochána as "cover" for what was a political decision by interfering in the process before it began.

"It should have been left to the gardaí to come to this decision. What went wrong in this issue is that politics of forming the Government and Shane Ross's request somehow infected the garda process and in other words the gardai should have been allowed to do their job on their own but the Government politicised the decision of An Garda Siochana, "he said.

"That's why I think  it's essential that the interim report be published because the fact that the Government has decided not to issue it at this stage is damaging to the gardaí , damaging to the body politic and the only way to clear that up is to publish the report now and that can be done this morning ," he added.

"I'm say politicians had a clear objective an they got the power of the Garda Siochana to give them a report to suit what their objective was.

"That's where I believe the gardai have been damaged by the politicians and members of  government interfering in what should have been a garda decision."

The interference he claimed took the form of the Government "deciding there should be six, the politicians decided some of them should be in Dublin before they even started the process, that was part of the criteria... [and] they set out the terms of reference."

"I think that the politicians, for political reasons, overly influenced the garda decision," he said.

"I'd have no issue if the Government wanted to make a decision but they shouldn't be using and abusing the gardai for a political decision.

"They should have been big enough to say this is a political decision," he added.

"There would have been no report if he [Shane Ross] hadn't asked for it and demanded it to be six and some of them to be in the Dublin area as part of the formation of Government. The whole thing started as a political project," he said.

Minister Ross said he campaigned on the issue of station closures but did not have any hand in the report which identified Stepaside for reopening.

He told RTÉ's 'Primetime': "Was it stroke politics? The answer to that is absolutely no. I campaigned for the reopening of all the garda stations that shouldn't have been closed in that period of time. It was a bad policy, it was a wrong policy."

Mr Ross added: "Let me take you back to 2013, I campaigned while in opposition against the closure to Stepaside Garda Station.

"I campaigned for this for three years and during the general election I said openly that it was my policy that Garda stations should not have been closed."

Acting Commissioner Donall O Cualain told PAC this week that the decision to reopen the station in Sports Minister Shane Ross's constituency was based purely on policing and that he was not aware of any pressure being brought to bear on gardaí to select Stepaside as a station suitable for reopening.

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