Wednesday, 26 April 2006
I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, for taking time out of his busy schedule to take this Adjournment debate.
This issue has been ongoing for some time in west Cork. At the beginning of 2002, members of the Garda Síochána, with the support of the Garda Representative Association, threatened to walk out of the Garda station in Dunmanway which has been in a state of disrepair for many years. The gardaí were at crisis point. At this juncture the Office of Public Works acquired a house opposite the Garda station into which the gardaí moved. Since then the Garda station in Dunmanway has been operating out of that house. That house is primarily a family residence and is not conducive to proper working conditions for members of the Garda Síochána. It is not wheelchair accessible and does not have interrogation rooms or a cell. It is wholly inappropriate in terms of policing. In an era when the country is awash with money it is not good enough that a Garda station should operate from a private house.
Discussions have been ongoing for some time with a local couple who own a tract of land to the rear of the Garda station. I met the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, last year with members of the community on that issue. The people concerned have made every effort to find a resolution. It has cost them an amount of money in the process of trying to satisfy legal requirements to enable the Office of Public Works to take over that plot of ground. It has been some months since there has been any tangible contact from the Department on this matter. There is no end in sight for that retired couple who have expended quite an amount of money and have gone to great trouble to make it easy for the State to take over the plot but nothing has happened.
The sub-district of Dunmanway has a population of more than 7,500 people. It is urgent that this refurbishment takes place. It has been announced on previous occasions by a candidate in the general election of 2002 who is now a Deputy and who announced it again last year. However, no work is being done. There is no physical proof to the people of Dunmanway that this long awaited and much promised refurbishment work will take place.
In September 2005, at a protest meeting which I and a number of people in the community organised, members of the Garda Representative Association met in Dunmanway en masse and protested at the lack of a proper Garda station in the area. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, travelled to Bantry on the same day to open a state-of-the-art Garda station which the people there deserve. However, on that occasion when questioned by those present, the Minister said that somebody fell asleep at the wheel and that he would ensure there was a swift response. Eight months have elapsed since we discovered that somebody was asleep at the wheel and still nothing has happened. We are approaching the next general election and there is no proof that anything will happen. There are local rumours to the effect that the Office of Public Works will not pursue the proposal to refurbish Dunmanway Garda station and that it may seek a greenfield site. This was denied when I contacted the Department in recent months but the rumour persists. I plead with the Minister of State to offer the House concrete evidence that this long awaited project will finally be given the green light. Dunmanway needs results because it is not good enough that the town does not have a decent Garda station in 2006, given that public disorder and anti-social behaviour are dominating newspaper headlines. The closure in recent years of Garda stations in other villages such as Drinagh and Ballygurteen places even greater responsibility on members of the Garda Síochána in Dunmanway who must already operate under highly unsatisfactory conditions.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue and affording me an opportunity to answer and explain the position regarding Dunmanway Garda station, County Cork. As the Senator may be aware, the objective is to extend and refurbish the existing Garda station. An important aspect of the refurbishment work will involve improved access to the rear of the station. For this to take place, a privately-owned plot of land adjoining the Garda station needs to be acquired. The Commissioners of Public Works have endeavoured to purchase this plot of land for some time. Negotiations to acquire the land have been complicated and delayed by a number of factors, including the legal issue of the vendor's title, which he had to perfect.
I am pleased to note that all the delaying factors have been resolved and negotiations to acquire the freehold interest in the plot of land have resumed. These negotiations have entailed officials from the Office of Public Works engaging in regular contact with the vendor in recent months, through direct telephone communication and site visits. The OPW's valuer is in advanced discussions with the vendor with a view to agreeing a market price for the area required.
The House will appreciate that I am not in a position to give a precise date as to when the refurbishment works will commence. However, the Commissioners of Public Works are treating this case as a priority matter and are ready to proceed immediately on the refurbishment works to Dunmanway Garda station as soon as agreement to an acceptable price for the plot of land is secured. I assure the Senator that I will continue to endeavour to bring this matter to a satisfactory and successful outcome as soon as is possible.
While I appreciate the Minister of State's reply, it is not different from other replies we have received in the House and does not provide a timeframe. With a general election due in less than 12 months, this issue will be used as a political pawn. It is above such games; I plead with the Minister of State to ensure the refurbishment commences and give the House a date as soon as possible to ensure a successful resolution of the matter.
The only outstanding issue is the need to agree a final price and have the lands signed over. The Office of Public Works is ready to proceed with the building works as a priority with a timeframe for completion of four to six months. I will take a personal interest in the matter, which I appreciate was raised with me some time ago, and revert to the Senator.