Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

6:00 pm

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the issue of a 24 hour physical Garda station for Carndonagh, which would service north Inishowen. I also thank the new Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, for taking Adjournment matters in the House this evening. He may not be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but he is nearly as good because he is now in charge of an area that is relevant to the issue I am raising.

The people of Inishowen are good and law-abiding almost all of the time. In Dublin there may be serious crimes including murder and major drug issues but in Inishowen we see a great deal of petty crime, including public order offences. Much of the time these crimes are committed by a small number of youths so this area is relevant to the Minister of State in his new role of responsibility for children and youths. He has a major part to play in helping us help those who wish to be valued as members of society and to bring those causing bother back into line, if possible.

I am here to talk about Carndonagh, one of the priority locations in the Garda Síochána's building programme. I was told in February that it is intended to build a new Garda station there. At that point a site had been identified and the Office of Public Works, OPW, which has responsibility for the construction and maintenance of Garda accommodation, was in the process of acquiring it. Where does this process stand at the moment? Once that was done the OPW and the Garda authorities were to bring forward detailed plans for the new station.

One of the last functions of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, was to turn the sod for the new Garda station at Buncrana, a €24 million investment. At one point I thought the Buncrana and Carndonagh stations would run in tandem in terms of acquisition of sites and building. Ultimately, there is a 24 hour service in Buncrana, but anyone who knows Inishowen will appreciate the sheer distance from one side to the other. Carndonagh Garda station is so small that it would fit in the Visitors Gallery of the Seanad. There is no debate as regards the need for the new station, but there is a certain urgency, as far as I am concerned. Local knowledge indicates that the site should be acquired by the Garda, because it has been looked at and talked about for a long time. I want to keep up the pressure to ensure that it becomes a reality.

I want to take the opportunity while the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews is in the House, to say that the youth diversion programmes have been enormously important and successful, where implemented. I assume the Minister of State's role, within youth affairs, will cross over a number of Departments. A radio programme last night made light of the fact that some of the Ministers of States crossed over a number of Departments. However, it is only logical that Ministers of State in particular should not only have the right to cross over Departments, but should be supported in their interdepartmental roles. There is no point in talking about youth affairs unless the Minister of State can talk to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about supporting youth diversion programmes, for example. The need to talk to young people about what they are interested in, should be explored. There is a good deal of investment in sport, which is a great diversion for the youth. However, some people are not into sport, and therefore other facilities must be found for them.

Some people say that a great deal of effort and resources are targeting the minority of people who cause bother rather than the vast majority who do not. However, if we focus on investing in youth services, which will of interest to the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, into the future, then a Garda station will be more of a social phenomenon, a place where people may go to get their forms signed. If people have to be detained, for whatever reason, they may be safely detained. At the moment, the geographical distance between one location of the peninsula and another needs to be considered, as I have said. There are some 30,000 people on Inishowen, which in demographic terms is equivalent to Counties Louth or Leitrim. People argue that it is only a small place, but distance there between one place and another is exacerbated by the fact that the Buncrana station is advancing well, while Carndonagh Garda personnel are forced to work in impossible conditions.

I welcome the advent of more female gardaí, but in the event there must be facilities for them, and many of the stations need to take this into account. To be mildly controversial in this regard, sometimes the numbers of operating gardaí will remain fixed regardless of whether a garda takes maternity leave — with the mother-to-be still on the books. The difficulty is that from the moment a garda becomes pregnant, she is put on desk duty, and then takes maternity leave. This means that the real as distinct from the actual numbers can sometimes be slightly different. However, the facilities need to be put in place for all eventualities.

Photo of Barry AndrewsBarry Andrews (Minister of State with special responsibility for Children and Youth Affairs, Department of Health and Children; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter and affording the opportunity to set out the position with regard to the provision of a new Garda station in Carndonagh, to serve the north Inishowen area of County Donegal. Unfortunately, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is unavailable to take this debate although I am, of course, happy to stand in for him.

Carndonagh is one of the priority locations on the Garda Síochána's building programme and it is intended to build a new Garda station there. A suitable site has been identified and the Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for the construction and maintenance of Garda accommodation, is in the process of acquiring it. Once this is done the OPW and the Garda authorities will bring forward the necessary detailed planning for the new Station.

The Government and the Minister are strongly determined to ensure that An Garda Síochána is provided with the necessary personnel and equipment to undertake its role effectively and efficiently. This Government will continue the commitment, clearly demonstrated in recent years, to ensure that the Garda Commissioner has the necessary financial and other resources available to him for the force. This year the Garda budget stands at over €1.6 billion. This level of resources is an unprecedented investment in policing, representing an 11% increase on the Garda budget for 2007.

There is a significant ongoing programme for the replacement and refurbishment of Garda stations and other premises around the country. Under the national development plan a sum of €260 million is assigned for Garda stations and other accommodation. The programme is drawn up by the Commissioner, based on his analysis of needs around the country, and in consultation with the Garda representative bodies. The building programme is then put in place by the Office of Public Works, working in close co-operation with the Garda authorities. In addition to the building programme, a total of €9.5 million is available in the Garda budget this year for the ongoing maintenance of Garda premises.

The House should also note that the OPW is currently carrying out a review of a large number of stations in rural locations around the country in consultation with An Garda Síochána with a view to putting in place a targeted programme of renewal. The results of this review will feed into a broader Garda accommodation strategy which is being developed at present by An Garda Siochána.

North Inishowen forms part of the Donegal Garda division. The personnel strength of the Donegal division at 31 December 2002 was 416 and the personnel strength at 31 March 2008, the latest date for which figures are available, was 497. This represents an increase of 60, or 12.6%, in the number of personnel allocated to the Donegal division since 2002.

The north Inishowen area is covered by the Buncrana Garda district which is made up of the following Garda stations: Buncrana, Burnfoot, Carndonagh, Clonmany, Culdaff, Malin, Moville and Muff. Over the five year period from 31 December 2002 to 31 December 2007 the personnel strength of the Buncrana Garda district increased by almost 14.5% from 77 to 90. Policing in the area is supplemented of course by divisional resources when this is necessary, including from the division's detective, traffic and other units.

Buncrana Garda station is open to the public on a 24-hour basis. Members of the House should be aware that an extension of the opening hours of any of the other Garda stations in the Buncrana Garda district would require the deployment of additional personnel on indoor administrative duties when these personnel may be more effectively deployed on the beat on outdoor duties.

A specific rural policing initiative was launched in February in the north Inishowen area which involves two sergeants and 12 gardaí. It covers the sub-districts of Carndonagh, Clonmany, Malin and Culdaff. This initiative is currently being reviewed by the Garda authorities to identify how the policing service to the community in the area might be enhanced. The view expressed by the Garda inspectorate in its most recent report, that community policing is a fundamental policing philosophy and that it is based on strong foundations in Ireland, is one which I know the Minister and the Commissioner share fully. Indeed, one of the six strategic goals set out by the Commissioner in the 2008 policing plan involves community engagement aimed at building a Garda service that reflects people's needs and priorities.

The assignment of Garda personnel throughout the country, together with other resources, overall policing arrangements and operational strategy are continually monitored and reviewed. This monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the general public.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I want to add one point. With respect to the Minister of State, I read my copy of the Adjournment matter on Wednesday, 13 February, and it conveyed the same information, although in slightly different order. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the fact that I was looking for an update as regards the Garda station in Carndonagh — and all of those things were under review. The phrase I use there is precisely as it was in the document of 13 February. I was asking whether the site had been bought, if the OPW had brought forward the detailed planning for the new station and what the timeframe is. Perhaps the Minister of State will get the Minister to come back to me on the specific points.