Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the loss of divisional headquarters from nine garda divisions in the country was really “neither here not there” as an issue because policing services in those communities “will improve”.
The loss of divisional headquarter status in nine of 18 divisions being merged was raised as an urgent issue by a number of TDs and Senators at the Oireachtas Justice Committee, where the commissioner was being questioned on a range of matters.
On Brexit, the commissioner told members that he “entirely refuted” suggestions that there was no Garda planning for Brexit, saying there was a “high state of preparation”.
He said the possibility of a no-deal Brexit was a “very serious issue” adding there had already been an increase in dissident activity, with “six national security attacks” in the North.
On other issues, the commissioner said:
- He was in conversation with the Department of Justice with its demand that the Gardaí shoulder the “very considerable” cost, estimated to be up €15m, from the US presidential visits
- He condemned the “very vicious assault” on Quinn Industrial Holdings's director Kevin Lunney, who was abducted from Fermanagh on Tuesday evening and dumped across the border in Co Cavan and said a joint investigation was underway with the PSNI
- The organisation was examining options to improve visibility in communities by setting up clinics in vacant stores in towns and villages
- The organisation was “two years off” publishing crime statistics that were reliable enough to be certified by the Central Statistics Office
- A search had to date found no other cases matching that of Majella Moynihan – a former garda, who in the 1980s, faced dismissal over having a child outside of marriage – but said there were comments on files in other cases
Under the commissioner's restructuring plan, divisions being merged are: Cork North and Cork West; Clare and Tipperary; Mayo and Roscommon/Longford; Donegal and Sligo/Leitrim; Cavan/Monaghan and Louth; Meath and Westmeath; Laois/Offaly and Kildare; Wicklow and Wexford; Kilkenny/Carlow and Waterford.
Senator Martin Conway, who is from Clare, David Cullinane, Sinn Féin TD for Waterford, Thomas Pringle, Independent TD for Donegal, Denis Naughten Independent TD for Roscommon and Jackie Cahill Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary were among those who raised serious questions at the mergers and the threatened loss of divisional HQs.
Concerns were also expressed about the lack of consultation on the plan.
Deputy Cahill said he was “extremely concerned” about the merger between Tipperary and Clare saying the geographical area would be a “monstrosity in size”.
He insisted Thurles be the divisional HQ for the merged area. Senator Conway said the future of Ennis HQ was the “single biggest concern” of local people and said it was an “open and shut” case that the new HQ should be Ennis.
Deputy Naughten said there was “genuine concern” for the future of the Roscommon divisional HQ and did not accept the commissioner's reassurance that superintendents would not be concentrated in new division HQs.
Deputy Cullinane said Waterford city was being treated differently to the other cities, which will retain, with their county, their divisions – and said the Garda plan goes against the Government's National Planning Framework.
The commissioner said he would be holding off on merging or restructuring divisions along the border until the nature of Brexit emerged.
He said the location of the merged divisional HQs would take into account the facilities of the station and the demands on the chief superintendent.
He reassured members that senior commanders would be “dispersed” throughout divisions and that there would be more inspectors, sergeants and gardai locally.
In relation to concerns from Cork city Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire that Cork city was not getting its fair share of new gardaí from Templemore College, the Commissioner said that “critical issues” elsewhere in the country had to be dealt with first, but that “some rebalancing” would be done over the near future.