Tuesday, 24 April 2012
With no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, I am disappointed the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is not in the Chamber to take this matter. He was present in the House for the Order of Business and cannot be too far away.
Clonmel Garda station is the largest station in the Tipperary division and deals with a large population. It is possibly one of the largest stations in the south east of the country. There is no point in beating around the bush; it is not fit for purpose. I, and previous Members of the House, tabled motions on this matter on many occasions but to no avail. The reason given was always that no suitable site was available; a committee was examining a number of different sites including the old Chadwicks building, which has since been sold, and the old Barlo building, which is now redundant and, the OPW is currently examining locations and preparing files.
There is no reason the Government and Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, having closed the prestigious Kickham barracks in Clonmel, the staff of which were treated less than courteously, cannot immediately make at least 11 acres of that site available for a decent functioning, fit for purpose, Garda station for Clonmel and the surrounding districts. This is what is needed if we are to have a proper community policing regime, community alert and neighbourhood watch groups, the capacity to carry out difficult and precarious detective work, a drugs unit and to house state-of-the-art IT facilities. The current station is nothing short of a hovel, the public interface of which is disgraceful in terms of it not being much bigger than this area where I am sitting. It provides no dignity for people visiting the station or for gardaí who are doing their best to deal with people. A woman or man with a buggy fills the tiny space available, leaving other people to wait their turn in the corridor or out on the street. It is not acceptable that the gardaí, under Superintendent Courtney, who do a wonderful job must work in these conditions. We need a station that is fit for purpose, a place wherein gardaí can be comfortable and at ease in fulfilling their roles of dealing with the public and codes of practice, which are quite onerous. We also need a place fit for purpose for restorative justice projects. It is not a situation of the gardaí and us; the people must be buy into the community of policing. We need decent facilities in which members of An Garda Síochána and the reserve can carry out their work. We also need space for the storage of Garda vehicles and equipment.
Clonmel Garda Station is the poor relation, in terms of facilities, in the town, which has state-of-the-art courthouses, civil defence and ambulance services. The county council also has new machinery and composting facilities. Many of the community facilities are in better condition than the Garda station, which is Dickensian. Also, it belongs to South Tipperary County Council which needs it back because it is renting buildings around the town of Clonmel and further afield to house IT and other facilities which cannot be located at its offices. The reserve force still does not have a training area and will, tonight, be without a home for a fifth week despite promises by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Deputy Shatter, that they would be housed before the barracks was closed.
There are 11.5 acres available on the barracks site, which could be used for dual or treble purposes. Clonmel needs a fit for purpose Garda Station which allows the provision of a justice service in south Tipperary and above all provides accommodation for Garda and the equipment they require to tackle the many issues which they must tackle with dignity and bravery. The Garda Síochána must have the tools of the trade to allow it to do its job. The current facility would not be accepted anywhere else. There are 11 acres available on the Kickham barracks site, which is a prestigious site adjacent to the town centre. The Garda Station could co-exist at that location with the reserve Defence Forces and many other community regimes, thus providing free of charge security for this magnificent listed building that will be laid to waste if not utilised soon. I do not have much faith in the Minister, Deputy Shatter, doing anything with it given the manner in which he treated the soldiers of that barracks and the people of south Tipperary.
I am responding to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, who has asked me to convey to the Deputy that owing to a prior engagement he is unable to be here and to thank him for raising this topic.
The Deputy will be aware that the provision of new Garda stations and Garda accommodation generally, including all site purchases and new buildings and the examination of potential sites for the location of Garda stations, comes under the remit of the Office of Public Works. While An Garda Síochána establishes its own accommodation priorities around the country, these priorities are progressed in close co-operation with the Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for capital expenditure on Garda accommodation. The relevant expenditure is met from the Office of Public Works Vote.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Deputy Shatter, has been advised by the Garda authorities that the Office of Public Works previously examined a number of options for Clonmel Garda station, including the provision of a new district headquarters. This was the subject of an examination by the Office of Public Works with a view to securing a new site but none of the locations examined was deemed suitable for Garda requirements. However, more recently, a potential site for the location of a new Garda district headquarters has emerged within the former Kickham Army barracks. As the Deputy will be aware, this barracks is no longer operational and is not being retained for military requirements. In that context, the Garda authorities, in conjunction with their colleagues in the Office of Public Works, are examining potential proposals on the development of a new district headquarters. On completion of this process, the relevant parties will work together to explore and develop possible options to further progress this matter.
The Minister has also been informed by the Garda authorities that the provision of new accommodation in Clonmel is a project to which they attach a high priority. However, the Deputy will be aware that, arising from the current economic difficulties, the capital budget for Office of Public Works has been reduced for 2012 and subsequent years. The Garda authorities have confirmed that this matter will be kept under ongoing review.
We can cut to the chase here. I was involved in trying to identify sites with the previous Administration and the OPW. I was disappointed when the Taoiseach decided to combine the defence and justice portfolios. I felt that the Department of Defence was entitled to its own Minister. Surely there must be some logic to it. We were promised Government reform. Clonmel should receive some benefit from the loss of its battalion and the closure of Kickham Barracks. The fact that the same Minister is in charge should also be of assistance. The Minister of State should cut out all the speak and all the spiel. We need to be given the reform that was promised. This land and property is in the hands of the Department of Defence. There is no need for the spiel about the OPW looking for sites and speaking to senior officials in the Garda. I accept that has to be done. We need security at the ready-made site I have mentioned. It could be transferred to the Department of Justice and Equality without any cost. The same Minister is responsible for the two Departments. There is no need for a vote of the Government.
If we have to wait for the OPW to come up with a site, we will be waiting for a long time. I believe that some of the other sites that have been looked at by the OPW are eminently suitable. The OPW deemed that they were not suitable because the money required was not available. I accept that a new Garda district headquarters is needed. We are ready to house it. The gardaí are ready, willing and able to occupy it. The building to which I refer is in pristine condition. I have been in and out of it on Daffodil Day for the past 25 years. I have attended many other public functions there. It is a public building. The people are proud of it. The national flag flew on it until it was taken down recently. We need the flag to fly on it again. If the local gardaí were housed there, they could be proud of their premises. Community groups, school groups and businesses could visit the new Garda headquarters to learn about community policing. Young people could be encouraged to be involved in community alert and neighbourhood watch programmes. A wonderful model could be developed at the site. As the old adage says, "where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows".
I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to come to Clonmel to look at the site in question. He should instruct the OPW to dedicate five and a half acres of the 11-acre site for the purposes of the new Garda headquarters immediately. We have been told it would cost €3 million to upgrade the present facility, but I suggest that cannot be done. One cannot make a silk purse of a sow's ear. God forgive the terminology. It cannot be done. The ready-made building that is available on this site could, with slight adaptation, be used for these purposes. Above all, it offers plenty of space for a modern functioning Garda station in 2012.
As a result, there have been significant reductions in capital budgets. As I said earlier, the OPW and the Garda authorities are examining the proposals in respect of the Kickham Barracks site. There is no doubt that there is potential at the site. That possibility is under consideration at the moment, within the constraints of the capital budget. I will be happy to convey the Deputy's views to the Minister concerned.