Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Vocational Education Committees
This motion, with regard to Kilbrittain Garda station, speaks for itself. A review of many rural Garda stations is being conducted by the Department of Justice and Equality. Kilbrittain Garda station has been earmarked as possibly being one of the 200 rural stations which may very well close. This issue has come to the attention of the public in west Cork and meetings have been held. Yesterday, I attended a public meeting attended by 300 people including representatives of various groups, including those representing the elderly, community alert and neighbourhood watch groups, the West Cork Community Partnership and many others. They are concerned that if Kilbrittain Garda station closes, other stations in the constituency such as those in Goleen, Ballydehob, Adrigole, Kealkil, Drinagh and Ballyfeard may very well be for the chop.
I am not a carrier of doom and gloom policy but I am concerned about some of these areas, particularly Kealkil, Adrigole and Goleen, about which I had to make very strong representations in the past to ensure when the garda retired that the local station remained open. One can make the point that it is not the stations which are at issue but the gardaí, but I have always advocated the importance of a garda living in a local community. I criticised the previous Minister because none of the eight gardaí at a particular station in West Cork, which shall remain nameless, lived in the town or community. This was regrettable. Last night, it was stated that the local garda in Kilbrittain actively works in the community. Approximately two years ago, unfortunately a woman was kidnapped and murdered in the Kilbrittain area. Thanks to good detective work by the station in Bandon the culprit was apprehended and is now serving a prison sentence.
I come from Kilcrohane on the Sheep's Head Peninsula in a very rural constituency and we are concerned the closure of rural Garda stations is penny wise and pound foolish. In some cases it has been shown that approximately €3,000 per year will maintain a station. I am concerned about cutbacks in rural Ireland. Previously, I criticised my party in government for closing local post offices. I know these are very difficult times but Garda stations serving very peripheral areas such as Goleen, Kealkil and Kilbrittain should be maintained.
The Minister of State is aware that one of the greatest drug hauls made in the State was off Mizen Head and it received wide publicity. The launch of the culprits came from a little pier in my home village of Kilcrohane. Were it not for the fact that at dawn that day the people involved put diesel into a petrol engine they probably would have got away with it. For ten years I have been making the point that drugs come through areas such as west Cork. In other instances drugs were dropped off in Schull and other areas. Local vigilance is very important and a local garda in conjunction with community alert and neighbourhood watch groups can be very effective. I urge the Government to be very careful when making decisions on closing Garda stations.
Last night at the meeting, Superintendent MacEoin stated that as far as he was aware no decision had been taken on any station. The community in Kilbrittain is very proactive and is not taking the risk of waiting until the horse has bolted to close the stable door.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, has asked me to thank Senator O'Donovan for raising this matter. It provides the Minister with an opportunity to clarify the position on this important topic which the Senator has highlighted.
Before I continue, I know the House will join me, on behalf of the Minister, in expressing our deepest sympathies to the family, colleagues and friends of Garda Ciaran Jones. Garda Jones was swept away while helping members of the public under the most hazardous of conditions yesterday evening in County Wicklow. His courageous actions were in the finest tradition of the Garda Síochána.
It is important that the matter raised by Senator O'Donovan is put into context. The House will be aware that, under plans agreed by the previous Government as part of its compliance with the terms of the EU-IMF agreement, Garda numbers are to be reduced to 13,500 by the end of this year and by a further 500 to 13,000 by 2014.
However, what will ultimately determine the sustainable level of Garda numbers is the level of budgetary provision that can be made for the force in the coming years, and the House will be conscious that difficult decisions will have to be made throughout the public sector to bring our public finances back into balance.
This means the Garda Síochána, like every other public sector body, will have to manage with reduced resources. Therefore, the Garda Commissioner is reviewing all aspects of current policing, including the deployment of personnel, the utilisation of modern technologies and the operation of Garda stations.
It is important to state that no decision has been taken on the closure of any Garda station. What is equally important is that a reduction in public opening hours in some Garda stations, and the closure of other Garda stations, will be issues that the Garda Commissioner will have to address as part of the review. He may well have to consider whether, in appropriate cases, a better policing service could be delivered to a local community by having Garda members out on patrol rather than in a station.
The Minister will very carefully consider the outcome of this review and the Commissioner's policing plan for next year with the objective of ensuring that priority is given to the maintenance of frontline services. At the same time, the Minister can assure the Senator and the House that it is a priority for the Government to maintain Garda frontline services at the highest level possible.
On behalf of the Minister, I pay tribute to the Garda Síochána, at this particularly difficult time, for the commitment and the professionalism its members display in carrying out their duties. The Minister is confident that the Garda force will continue to maintain the confidence of the public and operate successfully as it has been doing so effectively since the foundation of the State.
I concur with the Minister of State in conveying the sympathies of this side of the House on the regrettable tragedy that occurred in Wicklow last night where, in the course of his civic responsibility to help others, a very young off-duty garda was lost. As somebody with huge respect for the gardaí and with family members in the force I concur with the Minister of State in this regard.
I am not absolutely clear on the intent of the Minister from the response but I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for putting the matter into perspective. I will convey the response to the people in the community of Kilbrittain. I hope when the matter is being considered that each Garda station will be judged on its merits.
I feel very strongly on the importance of gardaí living in the community and I ask the Minister of State to take this point to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and perhaps, directly or indirectly, to the Garda Commissioner. Last night, I specifically inquired and discovered that none of the eight gardaí at the station I mentioned earlier live in the vicinity of the town. Whether he or she is involved in the local GAA club, goes to church or meets people day to day, the presence of a garda, whether on duty or off duty, is critical to a community.