Re-opening of Stepaside 'would not have been my number one priority': Assistant Garda Commissioner

The assistant Garda Commissioner for Dublin has admitted the controversial re-opening of Stepaside garda station in Transport Minister Shane Ross's constituency "would not have been my number one priority", writes Fiachra O'Cionnaith.

Senior garda Pat Leahy said he "would have had more pressing needs" and said other areas such as Ballyfermot and Ronanstown had a greater demand despite gardai formally confirming to the Department of Justice this week it will re-open Stepaside and five other facilities.

Speaking at the start of Thursday's Dáil public accounts committee meeting, acting Garda Commissioner Donall Ó Cualain said the Gardaí on Monday confirmed Stepaside and five other facilities would be re-opened.

The Fine Gael-Independents coalition faced a crisis of its own making earlier this year when Stepaside was named among four facilities due to be re-opened ahead of other sites across Ireland.

The garda station is in the constituency of Transport Minister Shane Ross and its re-opening had been a key part of his general election campaign, leading to claims the station was included on the list as part of a secret political deal.

Mr Ross and the Government have repeatedly rejected any claims of political interference in the re-opening process over recent months.

However, despite gardai ratifying the move in a final report given to the Department of Justice on Monday, assistant garda commissioner for Dublin Pat Leahy said if he had his way Stepaside would not have been his priority.

"Stepaside is the only one in Dublin that met the criteria set out by Government. It wouldn't have been my number one priority, I''d have other priorities," he said, repeating the comment a number of times during the meeting.

Asked if he was informed of the re-opening decision, which has a key impact on personnel matters directly under his watch, garda head of HR John Barrett said "no I was not".

However, despite the comments, acting garda commissioner Donall O Cualain said in response to Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry claimed Stepaside is not currently a priority because it is not re-opened yet.

"The six stations that are re-opening, they're justifiable. Each one of them," he argued.

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