Garda Corrib overtime bill is €12m

POLICING the Shell Corrib gas project has cost €12 million in Garda overtime in the past three years.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said this was money gardaí would “love” to have to spend elsewhere.

The impact is all the more severe since the Garda overtime budget has been cut from around €120m last year to €80m this year.

The mounting cost of policing the protests in north Mayo compares against the €21m set aside this year for Operation Anvil, a dedicated initiative targeting serious crime across the country.

The scale of the Shell overtime bill being footed by the State was revealed by the minister at the Dáil Justice Committee yesterday.

“I have to say that’s €12m that the gardaí would love to have somewhere else. While people have the entitlement to peaceful protest, the reality of what’s happening there in recent times means there has to be a substantial police presence.”

He appealed to protesters not to break the law and not to prevent people – including workers – from going about their business.

“€12m is a sizeable amount of money and given the events of the last week or so it is not abating,” said Mr Ahern. “This will have an impact on the Garda overtime budget elsewhere.”

The minister was presenting the 2009 Estimates for the Department of Justice to the committee.

He pointed out while the Garda overtime budget had been cut, the fund for Operation Anvil increased by €1m to €21m this year. He said given there were 1,000 more gardaí now than at the end of 2007, and it was “not unreasonable” to expect a reduced overtime bill.

Mr Ahern said the Garda national digital radio service had gone live in Dublin yesterday and would be rolled out across the eastern region by the end of the year.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said organised criminals were “celebrating” the slashing, by almost a third, in the Garda overtime budget. He criticised the 70% cut in the maintenance budget for Garda stations and said hundreds of stations were being closed “by stealth” as they only opened for a couple of hours a day.

Mr Flanagan also criticised an 18% cut in prison education services. Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said the country was like a “pastoral Buddhist nirvana” when Fianna Fáil took power in 1997, compared with now. He said Thornton Hall was a “misconceived monstrosity” and asked the minister was it not time to rethink the whole “superprison idea”.

Mr Ahern told Mr Rabbitte he would bring his revised plans for Thornton Hall to the Government in the coming weeks.

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