I join with the expressions of sympathy to Caroline Donohoe on the death of her husband, Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. This cowardly killing was an attack on our democratic institutions, as well as our country, and certainly cannot be tolerated.
I compliment Deputy Niall Collins for putting down this motion. In 2012, the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan stated the closure of rural Garda stations would impact on communities. This directly refutes the statement from the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter that the closures would lead to the more efficient deployment of personnel and the more effective delivery of policing services to the public, including remote areas. Has the Garda Commissioner changed his mind or has the Minister ensured he was forced to change his mind? The Minister continuously refuses to confirm the number at which the force should remain in the coming years. Reductions in Garda numbers jeopardise Garda management’s plans for the force and will force it to redraw its strategy. Will the Minister clarify his position on what the force’s full complement should be?
Garda stations are very much part and parcel of rural communities. Last year the Minister closed stations up and down the country with 100 more to close by the end of this month. There are concerns and fears in rural areas that people living there will no longer see a Garda presence in their communities. The Minister spoke about smart policing.
Is this policing by e-mail or the one hour a week a garda will be allocated to a local community centre? More often than not, that garda will have no contact or built up any relationship with the local people. Under the old Garda station arrangement, the local garda built up a knowledge of and a camaraderie with locals who in turn would have a strong faith in him or her.
When the Minister was in Opposition, he claimed a complement of over 14,000 gardaí was required to provide an adequate policing service. Obviously, he has changed his mind on this. If the slash and burn of the moneys he has proposed for 2013 are effected, the force will probably be down to 12,000 gardaí, a complement that will decimate Garda effectiveness.
The Garda Commissioner needs to stand up to the Minister and tell him how short of staff the force is and the shortage of Garda vehicles, many of which are old with high mileage. This morning on a radio programme it was pointed out that most Garda cars would not pass the NCT. Courtesy cars are provided by car manufacturers to sports stars and visiting dignitaries. I am sure if the Minister had the wherewithal he could negotiate with car manufacturers to provide vehicles for the Garda at a reduced rate.
In County Wexford, the Garda stations at Glynn, Kiltealy, Ballywilliam and Baldwinstown were all closed last year. Every garda in a rural area is being pushed into urban Garda stations. They are now trying to provide a service from the urban centres to rural areas with no facilities provided to them to achieve this. There is too much red tape and bureaucracy meaning gardaí are spending too much time filling out forms and policing by e-mail. Many gardaí tell me they get an e-mail from their superintendent on a matter to which they then have to respond. There is no more taking up the telephone and sorting the problem out through a conversation. Instead, three or four days are spent with e-mails going back and forth about a problem when it used to take one telephone call to solve it.
Last week in the Enniscorthy district, five patrol cars were broken down at the same time. The Minister talks about providing a satellite policing service from the towns into rural areas with the closure of some rural stations. How can the Garda do that from Enniscorthy when five out of its six patrol cars are not operational? Enniscorthy has lost seven gardaí in the past 18 months with only two replacements provided. Accordingly, the district has the lowest number of gardaí per head of population. Enniscorthy is also the first town on the main Wexford-Dublin road criminals from Dublin hit as all others before it – Arklow and Gorey – are bypassed. The town and its surrounding areas have seen a significant increase in robberies and attacks. This cannot be allowed to continue. However, the reduced numbers of gardaí deployed in the town cannot deal with this development.
The local knowledge from being based in a local Garda station is a must for gardaí to carry out their work. With the stroke of a pen, the Minister will now do away with this, claiming rural Garda stations are not needed and leaving their communities with no proper policing service but a satellite one.
Tonight, there will be a public meeting in Gorey, County Wexford, on the downgrading of its Garda station.
The population of Gorey during the Celtic tiger era doubled. Courtown became almost as big as Gorey had been previously. Some 5,000 people are living in the Courtown area at the moment. They will lose their garda. The Gorey Garda station will be downgraded and my hometown will be the major Garda centre. It is totally wrong. The population of Gorey and Courtown warrant a proper Garda presence and service. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to seriously consider reviewing the downgrading of the Gorey Garda station. Significant numbers of people have come from other areas to live in Gorey in recent years. Significant numbers have come to live in Courtown as well. There are drugs, crime, vandalism and all the other things that happen where a population becomes too big and where there are massive housing estates but few services being provided. I call on the Minister to seriously consider reviewing the downgrading of the Gorey Garda station, to ensure it is given the status that it had had up to now and that it would be allowed to continue in its present format.
The Minister should come clean on the future closure of Garda stations. It is an open secret in Wexford and the gardaí there have informed me that the stations at Ferns, Oulart, Oilgate, Rosslare, Carrigbyrne, Clonroche, Ballycullane and Campile will all close the coming year or 18 months. There are two Garda stations in Rosslare, one in the harbour and another in the port, which is one of the biggest ports in Europe, but the Minister is considering closing one of the Garda stations there. It is not good enough. The Minister has reneged on all the commitments he gave when he was on this side of the House. Now he expects the Garda to provide a service with 12,000 gardaí in future, although he stated that operating numbers should be 14,500 only two years ago.