Policing priorities and value for money were “not considered” in the decision to reopen six Garda stations, including Stepaside, a report published by the PAC has concluded.
Reopening Stepaside Garda station in his Dublin Rathdown constituency was a major political issue for Minister for Transport Shane Ross and new Culture Minister Josepha Madigan.
A defiant Mr Ross said the decision to close garda stations was foolish and he campaigned in opposition for its return.
“I have campaigned for five years against the foolish decision to close 139 garda stations,” he said. “Stepaside is only one of six stations selected by the gardaí to be reopened, as part of a pilot scheme. I fought for the review and pilot scheme as a matter of national policy during the programme for Government negotiations in 2016. How could I abandon a cause I have championed when in opposition for so many years? Does the supposedly non-political PAC expect me, once in office, to suddenly abandon those who have for so-long been the victims of crime?”
At the launch of the report, all four Fine Gael members of the committee — Peter Burke, Alan Farrell, Noel Rock, and Pat Deering — were absent. Asked if committee members were absent to avoid having to defend the indefensible, PAC vice-chair Alan Kelly replied: “Yes.”
Mr Ross was the subject of severe criticism from several PAC members, who said the decision was purely political and not based on clear policing priorities. The criteria for the review, which the Government provided to An Garda Síochána, did not “take account of policing priorities” in the Dublin metropolitan region, the committee report stated.
The report outlined the PAC’s concerns that value for money, resource implications, and policing priorities “were not considered” as part of the review into which Garda stations should be reopened. The decision to green light the reopening of the six stations should take into account the “best use of Garda resources” and State funds, it said.
Members of the PAC described the decision to list Stepaside as one of the six Garda stations to reopen as “parish pump” and “stroke politics”. These comments were not included in the report.
At the publication of the report, Mr Kelly said the decision to reopen Stepaside station was “political”. He said “any decision that isn’t based on policing need is something to be deeply worried about”, and that the Government should reflect on the move.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the terms of reference given to the gardaí by the Government were constrained to only areas that had former Garda stations, rather than where they were needed.
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said if “the Shane Ross of 2011 was sitting here today as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, he would be the first to be railing against what he would be calling parish-pump politics, stroke politics”.
Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said that while reports “don’t use words like ‘stroke’”, ordinary people would be able to make up their own minds “on whether this was Del Boy politics or not”.
Separately, the report also recommended that, given the “weaknesses” in the Health Service Executive’s oversight of the suicide prevention charity Console, there is a “moral obligation” on the HSE to pay staff outstanding wages they were owed when the charity closed in 2016.