The opening of the new Kevin Street Garda Station is a timely boost for the force, writes
There was a skip in the Garda stride yesterday that has not been seen for many, many years.
It was an assertiveness that could perhaps portend an organisation on the rebound after a dark period of tumult and scandal.
The sense at the unveiling of the new Kevin Street Garda Station could reflect what Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan described as a “pivotal” moment for the force.
It’s an organisation that has had its fair share of such purported moments in the past, only for them to be scuppered.
In his speech, Mr Flanagan was referring to the imminent swearing in of the next commissioner, former PSNI deputy chief constable Drew Harris.
That is set to occur after midnight on Sunday, also due to take place in Kevin Street Station, which is now the new divisional HQ of the Dublin South Central area.
Other elements fed into the upbeat nature of yesterday’s ceremony.
The building itself is striking, replacing a dilapidated station adjacent to it, that had been operational since 1806.
The new station is graced on one side (Bride St) with a five-storey curved facade and on its near side (Kevin St) with a striking combination of concrete and a full-height glass window with a painted central piece.
Designs, along with quotations from famous artists such as Seamus Heaney, Paula Meehan, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett, decorate the exterior wall and railings.
The large crowd attending the ceremony, held in the sun outside the front entrance, was entertained by a jaunty set from the Garda brass band.
There were plenty of formalities. The minister and the acting commissioner, Dónall Ó Cualáin, saluted local superintendent John Gordon and the minister inspected the guard of honour.
The force’s chaplains Fr Joe Kennedy and archdeacon David Pierpoint, blessed the station.
In his last public engagement before his retirement on Sunday, Mr Ó Cualáin wished Mr Harris the very best, given his “not inconsiderable challenge”.
Mr Flanagan gave a forceful account of what the station means to the force and how it is part of the Government’s “unprecedented” investment in the organisation.
He listed off all the familiar numbers and figures — 21,000 gardaí, civilians and reserves by 2021, €342m in expenditure and so on — and enthused about the modern facilities and equipment.
It was a breathless delivery, boosted by light-hearted comments on what he said was Dublin’s certain win this Sunday.
Then the national flag was raised, the national anthem played and the ribbon to the entrance was cut.
More photographs were taken at the plaque and at the visitor book inside and everyone, luminaries and ordinary folk alike, went on a tour of the impressive station.
And the station does appear to be a beacon of what a modern police force could look like, with proper, safe and secure facilities for gardaí, public and prisoners alike — but all dependent on sufficient resourcing.
The new station has a sophisticated property and exhibits management system and is completing a new scenes of crime office for technical examinations.
There are audio and visual recording throughout the station, on corridors too, to protect prisoners and gardaí.
In his speech, Mr Flanagan did acknowledge the “significant successes” in tackling gangs and “real progress” in reform under the outgoing acting commissioner.
He said there was no question that the swearing in of the new commissioner was a pivotal time in the history of the Garda Síochána.
He accepted Mr Harris came from a different police service, but said he hoped he would enrich the organisation.
He said that there may be challenges and while not specifying what they might be, historic legacies from the North and serious concerns expressed by some at having a former PSNI commander and liaison officer with MI5 as head of the Garda’s security service are among them.
Mr Flanagan rejected any suggestion that Mr Harris was an “outsider” and said: “He’s an Irishman”.
He said he was satisfied that “all appropriate levels of scrutiny and vetting were fully undertaken” in the appointment and was satisfied Mr Harris would be an excellent commissioner.
He said the appointment presented “opportunities to do things differently, to do things better” and to reinvigorate the organisation.
As he spoke, policing was happening as usual.
Down in the Special Criminal Court, local boy Freddie Thompson was being convicted of the gangland murder in 2016 of David Douglas on Bridgefoot St, about 15 minutes walk away.
The investigation and successful prosecution of the Kinahan cartel lieutenant, from the nearby small Maryland estate, is a major feather in the cap of local detectives attached to Kevin Street Station.
During the tour, you can clearly see the old station, where holes dot the roofs, where old battered stables were used to house crucial court evidence, and where, as one garda said, you would come out of the showers in a worse state than when you went in.
A sign of progress for sure. However, perhaps in there a message, too, for the incoming commissioner