‘Obvious’ Stepaside would be picked to reopen, says garda

The garda in charge of deciding which stations should reopen has revealed he was asked by the former Garda commissioner for a report shortly before Stepaside in south Dublin was chosen.

Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll said it was “obvious” Stepaside would be picked from criteria given to him by the Government and Department of Justice.

Controversy has erupted over the decision to reopen Stepaside over the other 139 stations closed during the recession. The station is in the south Dublin constituency of Transport Minister Shane Ross, who denies Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised him he would get its reopening “over the line”.

Mr O’Driscoll produced a report for the Government on six stations to reopen, but picked Stepaside over any other, a decision which has prompted opposition claims of a political stroke.

He told the Oireachtas Justice Committee his final report on the six stations would be finished in two weeks. It will then go to the department and the Government, who will have the final say on which stations should be reopened.

But Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan quizzed the assistant commissioner on whether he was put under pressure in the days leading up to an interim report submitted on June 9. This was three days after Mr Varadkar allegedly told Mr Ross in a private meeting that he would get Stepaside “over the line”. The alleged promise was recounted to the Irish Examiner by Mr Ross’ colleague, Minister John Halligan.

Mr Ross, a week later on June 13, announced that Stepaside would reopen.

Mr O’Callaghan asked Assistant Commissioner O’Driscoll whether anyone in Government or any minister had contacted him close to when he finished the interim report on June 8.

Mr O’Driscoll confirmed he had received a request from the “commissioner of the day”, Nóirín O’Sullivan, after he advised the final report was not finished.

“I’m not sure if requests were coming from elsewhere to the commissioner’s office, the deputy commissioner’s office or wherever. But it was on the basis that we had been requested to advise on developments and I was in a position to advise how the process had developed up to that particular time.”

Asked by Mr O’Callaghan if former commissioner Ms O’Sullivan had directly asked for the report before June 8, he replied: “I think requests, I had a number of reminders in writing asking me for an update. There probably is correspondence which indicates that I was again asked if I was in a position to give an update.”

Mr O’Driscoll earlier admitted that, after the criteria were given to him by the Department of Justice to do the report, that it was “obvious” that Stepaside would be chosen over others.

He cited his report, released over the weekend, which pointed to population changes as partial reasons for its recommendations. The decision to chose Stepaside was down to consulting with local officers and it was a bigger station than two nearby ones in south Dublin, added Mr O’Driscoll.

“Taking all of the information into account, I think Stepaside came to the top among those three.”

But Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers warned gardaí had been “framed” on the controversy, “thrown under the bus”. He told gardaí: “They [the Government] put two and two together and you had to answer four.”

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