Seanad debates

Thursday, 23 October 2008

2:00 pm

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to answer my Adjournment matter today. I may be seen as a greedy person, because I will begin by congratulating the Office of Public Works, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and all those concerned in the major development taking place at Buncrana Garda station. I am not being greedy when I come to raise the issue of Carndonagh Garda station.

Had the Minister of State come to visit Carndonagh, he would have seen the awful conditions under which gardaí there operate. In terms of size, the Visitors Gallery in this House would probably be bigger than the Garda station in Carndonagh. When I raised the issue with the OPW, departmental staff and the Garda a number of years ago, people were surprised by what I said, other than those who had been in Carndonagh. They accepted what I said was not an exaggeration, and I was given credit for the fact that I probably did not exaggerate it when I could have.

Inishowen's population is approximately 33,000. It has a population that is 5,000 larger than Leitrim. It is the size of Louth and is a sizeable geographic entity. It is a peninsula and is close to the large population centre of Derry and is also close to Letterkenny, which is a major urban centre in Donegal.

Owing to a number of Garda stations being closed or only open during certain hours on certain days, an agreement was reached that there would be a complementary 24-hour service provided for north Inishowen. South Inishowen is being accommodated by the gardaí in Buncrana, and there is a 24-hour presence there. There were serious concerns, which I brought to the attention of various Ministers over the years, and as a result, an agreement was reached that north Inishowen would have a 24-hour facility. That was not just a Garda station, but also the ability for female gardaí to have their own space, the provision of cells, an area for people to be questioned and held, and also a holding yard for impounded vehicles. A full complex was to be put in place.

A number of years have gone by, and although I always had the impression that there was a favoured site and it was moving forward, the site was changed. I had a sense over recent months that there was a favoured site. I raised this issue on 13 February and the response I received stated:

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 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.

I raised the issue again on 13 May and hoped that things had moved on, but I received the same information as I did previously.

I respect that the Minister of State is new to the portfolio, and I know he will have an interest in promoting such an urgent and important piece of basic infrastructure for the Garda. If we had a plethora of stations opening all day, all week, I would not need to be here. We have a policy decision to have a major resource located in Carndonagh to serve the entire north Inishowen community. There has been no debate on the urgency or prioritisation of the need. I have watched this process closely. When the OPW, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda are all involved in trying to drive a project, sometimes the wheels come off the bus, as it were. I can see how it can happen.

Swift progress is being made on Buncrana Garda station. We have the right Minister of State at the helm should he be made aware of the current situation. I hope he has good news for me today.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Keaveney. I share her affection for the peninsula of Inishowen. An ancestor of mine, Eleanor O'Doherty, was the sister of Sir Cahir O'Doherty. I have positive family connections. I wish what I had to say on this matter brought her more comfort.

Demographic changes in the Carndonagh area of County Donegal and an increasingly busy operational environment for the Garda Síochána have placed a considerable level of demand on the local Garda service. It has become evident over time that the existing station facility at Carndonagh, which was built in the 1960s, has become inadequate to accommodate Garda operational requirements to modern standards and, indeed, into the future. Accordingly, in 2006, the Garda Síochána requested the Office of Public Works to procure a development site in Carndonagh on which a new, larger station facility could be located. In recent months, after a public procurement process, the OPW successfully identified a site in Carndonagh suitable to Garda management. While no contract to purchase this site has been signed as yet, negotiations are at an advanced stage.

As the Senator will appreciate, because of the commercial sensitivity of this process, I am not able to give more details of the terms of the purchase at this time. Concluding this purchase will also depend on the availability of resources and the priority accorded to the project by the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The policy choices are made by the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. We simply execute their wishes.

Financial provision for projects proceeding to construction is provided from the annual provision of the Garda building programme. Prioritisation of projects in that programme is a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána in the first instance. The prioritisation of the acquisition of this site and the commitment of funds to conclude the purchase is a matter for decision by them. Once a development site has been acquired at Carndonagh, the next step in progressing the project to construction would be for Garda management to provide a brief of requirements to the OPW which would clarify the scale and operational profile of a new Garda facility for the Carndonagh area.

There is no dispute about the need for a new Garda station. A fair amount of work has been advanced not only to identify a site but to negotiate terms of purchase, although that has not yet been finalised. It is a question of priority. There are similar requirements and situations, not only in Senator Keaveney's constituency but also in my own and every one throughout the country.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the answer. I refer to the answer on 13 May, which stated:

[T]he 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. Under the NDP a sum of €260 million is assigned for Garda stations and other accommodation.

I would like the Minister of State to help me push this matter over the line, so to speak. Local knowledge has it that a long time has been spent looking at this site. The difficulty is that if the authorities do not seem to be coming to a conclusion, the site may be sold for something else, and there may not be another appropriate site in the future. I appreciate that we are in a situation of competing demands but the area in question has a population larger than that of Leitrim and is the same area as Louth. In that context, I ask the Minister of State to consult the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in an effort to ensure this matter is prioritised.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I take note of the final points made by Senator Keaveney. She referred to moneys for Garda buildings but we are in an even tighter situation now than we were six months ago. However, from here on I will take a personal interest in progress on the matter.