Thursday, 14 July 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla (Atógáil) - Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)
Community Development Projects
I have raised this issue on a number of occasions. I have been campaigning on this issue for a number of years, as have the local Labour Party and our local area representative Shane Folan. This impacts some on my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, as well, because the issue borders his constituency too.
I am referencing the Dublin 13 and Dublin 17 area, where the Minister of State will be aware that there are thousands and thousands of new units being constructed. It is effectively a new town. Within that new town we need to not repeat the errors of the past when we only built dwellings and did not build the community infrastructure. Obviously, other things are needed rather than just a Garda station. We have been to the forefront of advocating for new schools. We had a successful campaign to have a new second-level Educate Together school. However, more is needed for families to grow up and for the place to feel secure.
In that area there has been an identifiable need, which has been recognised by the Department of Justice and by senior Garda management for a new Garda station. The site has been identified at Northern Cross. In June 2019, the assistant Garda Commissioner gave notice that they were moving to progress to construction of a new Garda station at that location. It would serve the existing communities in Dublin 17, in Dublin 13 and the wider communities. If you move to a new area and things are beginning to knit themselves together, you need the sporting clubs, the community associations and you need to know that the agencies of the State are there to serve you, to work with you and to protect you.
It has come to my notice in the more recent past that there has been a number of troubling instances in Fr. Collins Park. They have been of a physical assault nature and of a verbal assault nature. There has been a racial component to them. This has been bubbling under the surface for a number of years, unfortunately. That is not to suggest in any way and that that part of the world is any different to any other part of city. Every part of the city has policing concerns and antisocial behaviour concerns. We have had issues around Clongriffin DART station as well, which has been targeted by antisocial behaviour.
When Shane Folan, other Labour Party members and I began this advocacy with the Clongriffin community association which had identified this need and made presentations, it was welcome that those who were in government at the time and Garda senior management were listening and identified the validity of the case being made. The political response has always been that this is a matter for Garda management. We felt that was a dispiriting response, when the Government at the time could see fit to reopen Garda stations that had been closed. I make reference to Stepaside Garda station.
However, this is a good news story. The community has gotten involved. The community wants to look to the future. It wants to build an area that it can be proud of. It wants to focus on community infrastructure. The Government responded positively. The assistant Garda Commissioner responded positively. We are now in a position hopefully to move forward. What I want now, and I raise this issue as often as I possibly can, is to get an update on where we are on the construction of this Garda station at the site of the corner of Northern Cross on the Malahide Road to serve Dublin 13, Dublin 17 and the wider jurisdiction.
I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. The Minister is pleased that budget 2022 reflects the commitment of the Government to ensuring that our communities are safe and that An Garda Síochána has the resources to be an effective and trusted police service. The budget provided by Government to the Garda Commissioner continues to increase to unprecedented levels with an allocation of over €2 billion in funding for this year.
As the Deputy is aware, the Garda Commissioner is by law responsible for the management and control of An Garda Síochána and for the effective and efficient use of Garda resources, including the provision of Garda stations. In addition, the Office of Public Works, OPW, has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. Garda accommodation matters are therefore progressed by the Garda authorities working in close co-operation with the OPW. As such, the Deputy will appreciate that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has no role in relation to this matter and she is not in position to comment on An Garda Síochána’s interaction with other agencies.
As the Commissioner has previously stated, accommodation is a crucial element for facilitating policing activities. We must further proof this in the area. It is for this reason that An Garda Síochána continues to engage with the OPW on capital and maintenance works across Ireland. This includes what the Commissioner has referred to as an exciting project that An Garda Síochána is working on with the OPW and Dublin City Council regarding the development of a substantial new Garda station and facilities on Dublin City Council lands at the corner of the R139 and Malahide Road at Northern Cross.
The Minister understands that discussions around the possibility of Dublin City Council making a site available to An Garda Síochána and to the OPW for the construction of a new Garda station at Northern Cross remain ongoing. As the Deputy can appreciate, until a site is secured, no further update on the status of the application for planning permission or further phases of the project will be available. However, the Minister is assured that the Northern Cross project is considered a strategic priority project by An Garda Síochána.
I hope this is of some assurance to the Deputy. I know that he has raised it consistently directly with the Minister. It is important, as the Deputy said, for good community infrastructure. We look at our census data and our populations are increasing. It is vitally important that communities feel safe. Those issues that the Deputy has raised about assaults and antisocial behaviour are not exclusive to this area, but it is important that people report everything and particularly racial abuse. It is vitally important that that is reported. I hope that the response from the Minister has given some assurance to the Deputy.
I am reassured by the response from the Minister. I do sometimes get a little disappointed with the political reaction as if there is no influence that the Minister can have in this regard. We know that the soft power of a Minister can be quite strong. The Minister needs to be an advocate and a persuader for this. Her office and her Department needs to be fully engaged on the progress of this. While the Garda Commissioner has described it as exciting, the site has been identified and talks are ongoing between Dublin City Council and the OPW, the community is still waiting. There have been justifiable delays.
Covid was obviously one reason for that. Yet, we are still seeing a lot of construction around that area. As a public representative, with other public representatives, I want to be able to stand over our period of influence in that area in 50 years' time and say that we put everything in place to ensure that the area was a thriving community, a place to be proud of, a place to bring up children and a place for families to feel safe and secure.
I do not like the arm's-length response that we often get from Departments, as if there is no influence that can be brought to bear. Having said that, the message that I want to see passed on to the Minister is that we would like her to be a persuader for this project and to actively engage on the issue. I ask that the Department do anything it can to make the process easier. I ask that the Minister is willing, able and at hand to be a facilitator in the process. I will continue to raise the issue. I am not going to let it go. I feel that we have to move to a position where a Garda station is constructed so that communities can feel that the community infrastructure is going in and that they live in a proper community with all the services and resources a Garda station will provide for them and the wider area.
The Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is, by law, responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including personnel matters and the deployment of resources. The allocation of Garda resources is made in light of identified operational demand. As such, the Minister for Justice has no direct role in the allocation of Garda resources. The Minister is advised that as of 31 May, the latest date for which figures are available, Dublin Metropolitan Region North has a strength of 793 Garda members in all its ranks. This is an increase of 125 members, or 18.7%, since the end of 2015. The division is currently further supported by 64 Garda staff, an increase of 20 or almost 45.5%, since the end of 2015. For the Deputy's information, the area referred to is covered by Coolock Garda Station. There were 125 Garda assigned to Coolock Garda Station as of 31 May, which is an increase of 21.4% since the end of 2015, when 103 Garda were assigned to that station. The Garda in Coolock Garda Station are supported by 15 Garda staff members. As I have said, the Government is committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána has the resources it needs, with an unprecedented allocation of more than €2 billion provided in budget 2022. The Deputy may be aware that there was a very strong interest in the recent Garda recruitment campaign, with more than 11,000 people applying to become members. The recruitment process is continuing to identify candidates to enter the Garda Síochána College over the coming period. I wish to reiterate and reassure the Deputy that the Northern Cross project is considered a strategic and priority project by An Garda Síochána. I hope the Deputy continues to use his considerable influence to help bring the project to fruition.