Stepaside decision ‘a political stroke’

A leading member of the cross-party Dáil public accounts committee has warned Government there is nothing in the now published Stepaside garda station re-opening report that changes her view what happened was a “political stroke”.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald made the claim as PAC colleagues confirmed the committee is considering hauling Department of Justice officials before it for questioning over why the report’s publication was repeatedly delayed.

Amid a growing political stand-off last week, the Department of Justice finally released the interim report into the re-opening of garda stations on Saturday.

The report, which was given to Cabinet in early June has been engulfed in controversy ever since due to the fact it found that the local garda station of Transport Minister Shane Ross was chosen to be re-opened.

A number of Government TDs said over the weekend that the fact the report has given a clear outline for why Stepaside garda station was re-opened means the issue has now been resolved.

However, Ms McDonald said yesterday that serious questions over who chose the methodology for the station’s re-opening and why population statistics instead of crime statistics were prioritised in the decision remain unanswered.

“I’m glad that it’s been published, but it largely reflects what we knew. The significant element that the criteria for selection was by the department not the garda, and in a way the report and the recommendation nearly becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy,” Ms McDonald said.

“It’s the prerogative of the gardaí to open garda stations, and the problem here is not that the people of Stepaside wanted their station. The issue here is stroke politics, and I haven’t heard from anyone anything to alter the fact this was a politically inspired and politically driven decision from start to finish.

“Those questions need to be answered to establish the fullest picture we can. But I haven’t seen anything to suggest this was anything other than the Government making sure the promise made to Shane Ross as regards this particular garda station was met,” she said.

Ms McDonald said that she will ask the PAC on Thursday to consider asking senior Department of Justice officials, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan or his predecessor Frances Fitzgerald to attend public questions on the matter at an upcoming meeting.

She added that the garda civilian head of human resources John Barrett — who played a key role in uncovering the recent garda college scandal — may also be asked to attend in the coming weeks to explain if he was contacted at any stage about whether there are enough gardaí available to re-open the station.

PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said last night he will consider all suggestions on potential witnesses to attend the PAC over the Stepaside issue at the committee’s meeting on Thursday.

However, it is understood the committee is not unanimous on its view that issues still remain surrounding Stepaside, and that a number of PAC members will say the matter has now been largely resolved.

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