Tuesday, 20 March 2007
I compliment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and his predecessor, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, on the excellent work done in my constituency in recent years. Cork South-West has the second lowest crime rate in Ireland. Last year, the Minister opened a brand new €12.5 million Garda station in Bantry, a new station is being built in Schull — a hobby horse of mine for a long time — major refurbishment has taken place at Castletownbere Garda station and we have a new Garda headquarters in Bandon.
In Dunmanway, the six gardaí stationed in the town are housed in a building rented by the Office of Public Works to facilitate gardaí in carrying out their duties. The old station in Dunmanway is almost derelict and has experienced problems for a number of years. A debate is taking place on whether it should be refurbished. Approximately six years ago, while a Senator, I received a letter gleefully announcing that the station would be refurbished and that a sum of around €160,000 had been allocated for this purpose. Subsequently a problem arose concerning access and a legal wrangle which has dragged on for many years ensued.
The community in Dunmanway is irate and the town's gardaí are not happy that they are housed in temporary accommodation without cell facilities. In the event that a prisoner must be kept overnight, he or she must be brought by gardaí to Bandon or Clonakilty. The community which the Garda supports is concerned about the unprecedented delay in either refurbishing the old station or providing a new station. When a greenfield site across the road from the old barracks was put up for sale many people believed it should have been purchased and a new station built thereon.
It is clear that action is needed regarding the Garda station in Dunmanway. The Garda Representative Association is angry — the word "militant" may be too strong — that its members are using a substandard station with the result that the community they serve in the Dunmanway area is not receiving the service it deserves. This issue has been a hobby horse of mine and I have discussed it repeatedly with the relevant Ministers, including the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, and officials from the Office of Public Works. I hope urgent action will be taken to provide the facilities the gardaí and members of the community in Dunmanway deserve.
I have put the problem in a nutshell and hope the Minister will be able to clarify the current position for me and people in west Cork. The community in the Dunmanway area is law abiding but there is a considerable anger that a commitment given many years ago either to build a new Garda station or refurbish the old one has not been acted on. With these few brief words, I rest my case in the hope that moneys will be provided to refurbish the old Garda station and a resolution will be found to legal difficulties, primarily concerning a right of access to the rear of the Garda station.
I thank Deputy Donovan for raising this issue and affording me the opportunity to explain the position regarding Dunmanway Garda station. I am responding on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell. The Minister visited the station in October 2005 on foot of the Deputy's request and made contact with local gardaí in the temporary station. The Minister was shown the old station, which had been vacated for some time, and it was abundantly clear that major works are required.
In order for the building works to proceed, the Office of Public Works must purchase land at the rear of the station. The Chief State Solicitor's office is acting for the board in this matter. I understand financial terms have been agreed with the vendors and that the legal process is finally nearing conclusion, with key title documents to be produced by the vendors' solicitor to permit the transaction to go through. The matter is being dealt with at a most senior level in the Chief State Solicitor's office.
The Minister welcomes these developments and looks forward to the commencement of the building works. Everyone is deeply frustrated with the pace of progress in this matter, but I assure the Deputy that everything that can be done is being done to bring the matter to finality. As a contingency, the Office of Public Works advertised recently for the purchase of a new site for the station. I hope it will not be necessary to invoke this contingency.
The building works will commence as soon as possible after conclusion of the legal formalities. The Office of Public Works has advanced matters as far as possible and will be ready to start work within a matter of weeks of the closure of the sale. A detailed brief of requirements has been prepared by the Garda Síochána and a sketch scheme has been prepared by the Office of Public Works and approved by Garda management. The Garda representative bodies were consulted at each step of the process.
The last time the Minister spoke on an Adjournment debate on this matter, he indicated that he would look at the roles of the various parties in the Garda building programme to streamline processes wherever possible. Since then, the introduction of various sections of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 has enabled this restructuring to take place. The Garda Commissioner has, since 14 July last, been made Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote. Accordingly, appropriate administrative procedures have been put in place to enable direct communications and business to be carried out between the Office of Public Works and the Garda authorities without the need to channel such communications through the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In addition, as part of the major civilianisation drive for the force, a new civilian accommodation manager with the requisite skills in this area has been appointed.
While the delays in Dunmanway have been protracted, this should not detract from the overall investment in the Garda building programme. Between 2005 and the end of this year, the Office of Public Works will spend €112 million on the Garda building programme. Under the National Development Plan 2007-2013, funding of €260 million is provided towards refurbishment of Garda premises and is included in the capital provisions of the Office of Public Works. This capital funding is in addition to the Garda budget, which across all areas for 2007 is more than €1.4 billion, an 11% increase on 2006.
In addition, the Garda building maintenance budget has been increased this year by €2.1 million to €8.36 million. A major refurbishment and replacement programme of Garda accommodation is under way. Throughout the State, stations large and small that are in most need of attention are prioritised and proactively replaced or renovated under a range of different schemes. These are unprecedented levels of funding and are making a lasting impact.
I assure the Deputy that the matter is receiving attention at the highest level both within the Office of Public Works and the Chief State Solicitor's office to bring it to a successful conclusion.