Just half of shut garda stations reviewed

Only around half of the 138 garda stations closed during the recession were considered to be in a position to be reopened in a special report to be presented to the Government.

The Department of Justice-commissioned report’s release comes as the Government is accused of interfering with policing for its own ends, over the controversial decision to reopen Stepaside Garda Station, south Dublin. Government sources say the report said Stepaside was the main station recommended to be opened by the garda-written assessment. Others, including Rush in Co Dublin, Donard in Wicklow, and Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, are given a “likely” recommendation for reopening, sources say.

However, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) wants to quiz Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, department secretary general Noel Waters, and senior gardaí about the exact reasons why Stepaside was picked as the primary station to be reopened.

The PAC’s Catherine Murphy said that unless there were “clear and concise” reasons, there would be the conclusion that Stepaside was chosen for political reasons.

Controversy has arisen over the station being reopened as it is in the constituency of Transport Minister Shane Ross, a Government partner in the Independent Alliance.

Mr Ross campaigned to reopen the station, but questions have arisen as to whether a deal was made privately with the Fine Gael-led government.

Pressure is mounting on the Government to address this, especially after Alliance member and junior jobs minister John Halligan told the Irish Examiner recently that, days before he became Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar promised to get Stepaside “over the line”.

However, Mr Ross told RTÉ’s Prime Time this week that he had “no input” into the report and there was “a compelling case” to reopen Stepaside. He says he got no promise from Mr Varadkar.

Sources familiar with the report told the Irish Examiner that around 78 of the 138 stations closed could not be assessed for reopening.

This was because they had been sold, had a change in use, or populations had fallen in areas such as Donegal, Mayo, and Sligo.

Areas examined by the report include population changes in regions and crime trends, although the latter are deemed to be unreliable.

The report looks at six stations for reopening and examines international practices in mobile policing in countries such as New Zealand.

The review is likely to be released today and will be discussed by Cabinet next week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in Estonia yesterday.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said that while the report was carried out by gardaí, its criteria had been set by the Department of Justice. However, he also went as far as claiming that the Government had “interfered and infected” the garda process of reopening stations.

Asked if the reopening of Stepaside Garda Station amounted to “stroke” politics, Mr Varadkar said: “Look, anyone who reads the Programme for Government will see that there was negotiated, and contained a commitment to open six new garda stations on a pilot basis. Those six have been identified and they’re going to be opened.”

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