Conversation on Stepaside revealed in interview

Questions about the Government decision to reopen Stepaside Garda Station in south Dublin have again been raised, amid fresh claims that the move was a political stroke, delivered by Transport Minister Shane Ross for his constituency.

The concern is over the possibility that politicians interfered with policing to serve their own ends.

Stepaside Garda Station was one of 139 closed during the financial upheaval that followed the 2009 recession. A yet-unpublished Department of Justice report recommended reopening six Garda stations. The report has yet to be seen by Cabinet or Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Nonetheless, the week Mr Varadkar was stepping into the role of Taoiseach in June, it was announced that Stepaside would reopen.

The announcement by Mr Ross came just a week after he and other Independent Alliance members met Mr Varadkar on June 6. Enda Kenny was on his way out the door and Taoiseach-elect Mr Varadkar met the group to iron out any issues before taking the reins of Government.

Alliance member and junior minister John Halligan had sat down with me for a 40-minute interview for the Irish Examiner in August, during which we discussed a variety of topics, including the new Taoiseach, along with Mr Halligan’s role in Government and the Independent Alliance.

One issue that was discussed was the June 6 private meeting between the Alliance and the incoming Government leader. Mr Varadkar had promised to get a number of local projects “over the line”, Mr Halligan told the Irish Examiner.

Specifically, this included reopening Stepaside and securing better cardiac services in Mr Halligan’s native Waterford. Mr Halligan said Mr Ross had been “pressing” for the Stepaside reopening at that meeting.

A week later, the day before the Taoiseach took his seal of office, its reopening was announced.

Controversy had erupted after concerns about outgoing attorney general Máire Whelan being promoted to the Appeals Court, a move supported by Mr Ross. The Stepaside news and Ms Whelan’s promotion, agreed at Cabinet on June 13, sparked outcry.

This week, on RTÉ’s Prime Time, Mr Ross denied Mr Halligan’s claim that Mr Varadkar had promised to get Stepaside “over the line” at the June 6 meeting.

For clarity, and to reveal the extent to which Mr Halligan spoke about this deal, the Irish Examiner today prints a full and unedited transcript of that part of our interview with him.

What about the Attorney General and the whole Máire Whelan appointment and the fact that Shane Ross at the same time was reopening up Stepaside, did you guys think it was a stroke?

No, I didn’t and I’ll tell you why.

Did you ask him [Shane Ross]?

I didn’t have to to and I’ll tell you why. And this is the truth. When we went into meet Leo Varadkar. Shane Ross was sitting where I’m sitting now, in that geographical position. He was sitting there. Up to then, he was arguing on Stepaside, at that meeting with Leo Varadkar, as I was arguing with the hospital in Waterford.

This is the renewal of things [for Government]?

Yes, the renewal. And he actually said to me ‘Jesus, I’m having awful problems with this’. And he was, because we knew. There was no question of him saying ‘I’ll agree with the Attorney General if you give me Stepaside’, that did not happen.

That was the meeting that you all went to before Leo was made Taoiseach, yes?

Yes.

Was he pressing Stepaside then?

Yes he was pressing it still then. That’s the truth. Ask any of the other four [Alliance members]. He was pressing that then. We put our stuff that we had [sic], we decided that we would be honourable in this, we wouldn’t start adding new stuff. What it was was a change of leader in Fine Gael and it would obviously then be a change in Taoiseach.

Q: You’re saying it [the Whelan appointment] was a separate issue?

Absolutely. Do you think that the hassle I’m having with the [Waterford] hospital, if I thought that he’d gone in and said ‘I’ll give you that judge if you give me’... no, no, no, that is not true because I was speaking to him weeks before that and we’d often said ‘fuck, I’m having problems with this hospital’ and he said ‘I’m the same in Stepaside, I can’t get this over the line. I’m finding it difficult getting this over the line’. Now, at that meeting, we had said that we had made it quite clear that there were issues in the programme for government. My issue was secondary with the hospital, the mobile cath labs, Shane Ross said ‘my issue is Stepaside’.

In fairness, Leo Varadkar said we will get them over the line for you.


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