Seanad debates

Friday, 26 March 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Garda Stations

10:30 am

Garret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chairman, Senator Boyhan, and acknowledge that he has connections to the wonderful county of Tipperary. I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for taking this Commencement matter. I am aware that she attaches importance not only to this matter but to all Garda stations.

Built in 1870, Clonmel Garda station has been operating for 150 years. It is located in Emmet Street beside the county council office and in the heart of the town. Its 107 staff, including civilian staff, are headed up by Superintendent Willie Leahy. They do incredible work and, as with staff in all Garda stations, they focus heavily on community involvement and community work. The building at which gardaí have been based throughout this time is no longer fit for purpose, certainly not for a new, modern Garda division. Clonmel is seen as a difficult division in which to work, with many challenges in the area, but the people who work in it are devoted to the area and committed to working in it on behalf of the State. To be honest, morale is quite low, and one of the main reasons for that relates to the building.

There has been talk of a new building for some time. Previous Ministers, including Charlie Flanagan and Frances Fitzgerald, have visited the station, as has the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris. They all supported and recognised the importance of having a new building for the Garda station. I acknowledge the role of the Commissioner, in particular, and his recognition that Clonmel needs to be supported. Designs for the new building have gone out to the public and there has been great engagement within the town and the adjoining area in support of the building. It will be built on the site of Kickham Barracks which, as most people in the area will know, was closed in 2012.

This project will be undertaken in conjunction with further development of Clonmel and the wider region under the Clonmel 2030 regeneration plan. This is to commence next month and the first phase will be a civic plaza area off Dillon Street, which is beside Kickham Barracks. There was positive news this week when Part 9 planning approval was granted for the construction of the Garda station. The development will involve the construction of a two, three or four-storey building, with a separate single-storey building to the rear. It will have parking spaces at the back, a separate entrance for gardaí and an entrance from the civic plaza. This development will revitalise an entire region of Clonmel around Kickham Barracks.

When the Garda station is being built along with the new civic plaza, a second phase will involve bringing Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, from the outer area of Clonmel into Kickham Barracks. The civic plaza area, LIT, the education and training board, ETB, and the Garda station will form a significant area that will connect the Showgrounds shopping centre with the main town. The project is being brought forward with agreement on all sides but there is worry about the Garda station because it has been delayed a number of times. Everyone is on board and wants the project to be developed and brought forward. This week's announcement that planning permission has been granted means a significant hurdle has been overcome. Will the Minister outline her Department's continued support for the new Garda station?

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue. In response to his last point, as Minister I can inform him that the Department of Justice is working with the Garda Commissioner and the OPW, which has responsibility for rolling out many of these projects. I reassure him that we are committed to ensuring that An Garda Síochána is supported in the work it does by providing the resources it needs. That includes the development of new Garda stations and the refurbishment of older Garda stations. That is a clear commitment and it is something on which I engage continuously with the Garda Commissioner.

The Commissioner has assured me that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources, including the provision of new stations or the upgrading of existing stations, under continual review in the context of overall policing priorities and crime trends, to ensure their optimum use. Following a review of the accommodation requirements of the Garda station in Clonmel, the Garda Commissioner and his management team decided that a public private partnership, PPP, should proceed to deliver new Garda stations in Macroom and Clonmel. I am advised by the Garda authorities that the PPP process is being managed by the National Development Finance Agency and that these two stations, one of which is in Clonmel, are priorities for the Commissioner. The previous Government and this Government have given a commitment in that regard.

As Senator Ahearn outlined, I am pleased to confirm that planning permission has been agreed this week for the site of the new station in Clonmel. As he and others will appreciate, this is a significant positive step in the overall progress of the project. I am also informed that while it is not possible to give a completion date for the project at this time, a working group is advancing the PPP process in its totality, including this Garda station. The Commissioner and I are very keen to see the new stations developed as quickly as possible. I again emphasise that while I have no direct role in these matters, it is a priority for me as Minister to make sure that the Garda is supported in the work it does and that it is provided with the resources it needs, which includes this type of investment.

The Garda Síochána has been allocated an unprecedented budget of €1.952 billion in its Vote for 2021. This level of funding is enabling sustained ongoing investment and recruitment of Garda members and staff. In addition, €34 million has been allocated for the capital building and refurbishment programme, so there is significant financial investment as well as the commitment at a Government level and within An Garda Síochána to develop these projects, one of which is the Garda station at Clonmel. The Garda station there is one of the projects where the commitment is very clear. While we do not have a timeline, the fact is that planning has been granted and the next stages will progress in terms of funding. While this project was not included within the current capital programme, because of the commitment at a Government level and within An Garda Síochána, as we develop the new capital plan which will begin next year, it will be very much part of that. Funding will not delay projects as they go through the various stages. We know that these projects are lengthy, as they take a period to go through the various processes. I am confident that given the progress that has been made this week and the clear commitment from the Government, my Department and the Commissioner, this project will progress as planned. The work that is being done by An Garda Síochána in Clonmel and the surrounding areas will benefit from the project.

Garret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for her response and her commitment to the Garda station, in particular that it will be part of the capital plan next year. That is really important. Like every project we as a Government put forward, it is not until people see the diggers and something happening on the ground that they fully believe it will go ahead. There is excitement among the staff. The work they do is phenomenal. They believe that if the station is built it will bring new life into the workforce and also into the community.

The Minister indicated that Part 9 planning approval was granted this week. I take it that nothing else is holding up the project and that we are ready to move forward with it. There had been complications at the start between the OPW, Tipperary County Council and An Garda Síochána but we are over the main hurdle now. Is it the case that there are no obstacles in the way and the Garda Síochána has the funding ring-fenced for the project?

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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It is extremely important that we provide the resources and capital infrastructure for An Garda Síochána to do its work. I am particularly pleased to note the increase in Garda resources in Tipperary in recent years. There are now 411 gardaí assigned to that division, which represents an increase of 16% since 2015 when there were 354. They are also supported by 84 civilian staff, which represents an increase of 162% since 2015.

I am also informed that since the reopening of the Garda Training College in 2014, a total of 90 probationer gardaí have been assigned to the Tipperary division. This is not just about capital infrastructure; it is also about making sure we have the manpower on the ground. A Policing Service for the Future, which is a significant plan, is very much focused on improving the overall structures, making sure that we have the right number of civilian staff and the right number of gardaí coming through the training college, working on the ground and supported by the resources they require. I refer again to the significant budget that has been allocated for this year, which will support them in doing that work.

I again thank the Senator for raising this matter and I reaffirm our commitment to Clonmel Garda station in the years ahead.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister.

Sitting suspended at 11.47 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.