A defiant Transport Minister Shane Ross has said the decision to reopen Stepaside Garda Station in his constituency was not “stroke politics”.
Speaking last night, 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.
At a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) 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.
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. Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry has written to committee chairman Sean Fleming, asking him to invite the three men and Mr Ó Cualáin to appear before PAC.
The move to reopen Stepaside was heralded by Mr Ross when he hung a large banner outside the station on the day of the announcement.
At the PAC yesterday, Mr Ross and Mr Varadkar were accused of the “political cherrypicking” of Stepaside Garda Station for reopening on the back of an unfinished internal report.
The Department of Justice had been advised to reinvest in the city suburb in an interim report on the reopening of six stations by Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll.
The acting Garda chief revealed that Rush station in North Co Dublin was also recommended for reopening in the same review, along with two other stations outside the capital.
Two other locations were identified for new stations to be built. Mr Ó Cualáin insisted the controversial reopening of a station in a Government minister’s constituency was based purely on policing, but members rejected his comments.
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.
The report has not been published and no decisions were announced about the four other locations when Stepaside was confirmed on June 13 at Mr Kenny’s last Cabinet meeting as taoiseach.
Mr Ó Cualáin told the committee he stands by the Stepaside recommendation, and insisted it was about policing. “I’m not aware that anybody brought any pressure to bear,” he told the committee.
Mr Ó Cualáin added: “The only criteria that I can consider as commissioner are based on policing needs and requirements for the communities.”
The final report is expected to be given to Government in the coming weeks.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “It’s a disgrace that political cherry picking of Garda decisions happens.”
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