Transport Minister Shane Ross is facing fresh claims that he pulled a “political stroke” by ensuring Stepaside Garda Station was re-opened after a senior garda officer said the facility “would not have been my number one priority”.
Assistant Garda Commissioner for Dublin Pat Leahy admitted the situation at least six times during a meeting with TDs yesterday, pointedly saying he has “more pressing needs” and would have opened other stations if he had the choice.
Speaking during the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, Acting Garda Commissioner Donall Ó Cualáin said Stepaside and five other stations closed during the economic crash would be re-opened.
As revealed in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, Mr Ó Cualáin said that after an initial decision over summer to recommend the re-opening of the facilities, a final Garda report rubber-stamping the move was sent to the Department of Justice on Monday.
Despite repeated claims of political interference in the process due to the fact the prioritisation of Stepaside was a part of Mr Ross’s re-election campaign, the Government has repeatedly said nothing untoward took place.
However, asked about the decision yesterday,Mr 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.
“From a personal perspective it wouldn’t have been my priority,” he said, repeating the comment a number of times and pointing to areas such as Ballyfermot as being in greater need of help.
During the same meeting, the Department of Justice’s outgoing secretary general Noel Waters said that while the Government provided the gardaí with the criteria for the re-opening selection process, the force was entitled to change the criteria if it wished.
However, despite the remark and Mr Ó Cualáin claiming Mr Leahy only meant Stepaside is not a priority as it is not yet open, Mr Leahy repeated that he wanted to make it clear that Stepaside would not be among his priorities, before adding: “I cannot say it [the criteria] was flawed.”
The revelation — and the fact Garda head of HR John Barrett said he “was not” informed of the re-opening decision despite the fact his view should be crucial to any re-opening move — led to opposition parties yesterday saying there is now proof Mr Ross was involved in a political stroke to ensure Stepaside was re-opened in return for supporting Fine Gael in Government.
Speaking during the PAC meeting, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said while the re-opening of the six stations is “only a pilot”, it is “a pilot that very nicely dovetails with what was wanted by a particular deputy in Government”.
“A lot of us will conclude this is a political decision,” she said.
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane repeated the view, asking the Garda representatives “was it a political decision”, before adding in a statement after yesterday’s meeting: “In my view, this is stroke politics at its worst and the evidence today simply confirms that this was a political decision, not a garda one.
“The Government and Shane Ross need to explain the process to the public, and why Stepaside was prioritised over the needs of Dublin garda operations.”
Mr Ross did not respond to a direct request for comment.
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