PAC Chairman suggests Government 'infected' decision to re-open Stepaside Garda Station

The head of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Sean Fleming, has claimed the Government "infected the garda process" of deciding what Garda stations should be re-opened.

Mr Fleming told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the Government was "using and abusing the gardaí" with regards the move to re-open Stepaside Garda Station.

Six stations were supposed to be re-opened on a pilot basis as part of the Programme for Government between Fine Gael and Independents after 139 were closed over the last six years as part of budget cuts.

A report from An Garda Síochána was to identify the stations that should be chosen, but at the PAC hearing yesterday with acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, it emerged that gardaí recommended the reopening of four stations on June 9, but that only Stepaside got the go-ahead.

The Transport Minister Shane Ross has said the decision to re-open Stepaside Garda Station in his constituency was not “stroke politics”.

Transport Minister Shane Ross and Cllr for Glencullen/Sandyford Kevin Daly at the reopening of Stepaside Garda Station. Pic: Justin Farrelly.

He defended the decision to reopen the station, saying: "I did what I said I would do. I used my clout to reopen Garda stations over the country. It was not stroke politics. The case to reopen Stepaside was compelling; that is why it happened.”

Mr Ross refuted comments from his Independent Alliance colleague John Halligan in an interview with the Irish Examiner last month that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised to deliver on Stepaside days before he succeeded Enda Kenny.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Ross are under fire for the “political stroke” which led to the June 13 decision to reopen Stepaside Garda Station ahead of other stations.

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.

Mr Fleming said the presentation from acting Garda Commissioner Donall O Cualain at yesterday's PAC hearing was very factual and he said he accepted his claim that the decision was made on policing issues.

But Mr Fleming said he believed the Gardaí were being used for "cover" by the Government whom he claimed "interfered" in what he called "a political decision".

He said: "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.

"The fact that the Government has decided not to issue the interim report (from the Department of Justice) 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.

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

He said that the Government had damaged the force with their actions.

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

"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.

"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."

Several members of the PAC are demanding answers from Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, Noel Waters, the top official in the Department of Justice, and the head of Garda HR, over their role in the “political stroke” which led to the decision.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Social Democrats TD and PAC member Catherine Murphy said: “The absence of any other evidence suggests that conclusion that it was a stroke. When you match that with what John Halligan told your paper, you can only come to that conclusion.”

Fianna Fáil’s Shane Cassells echoed her words and said “the dogs in the street” know that this was a political decision aimed at keeping Mr Ross happy.

Mr Cassells said the role of the Department of Justice in this saga left a lot of questions that need answering and called for Mr Waters to come before the committee.

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