Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Policing Policy.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

29 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice if any consideration is being given to the suggestion that some Dublin Garda Stations should close nightly at 10 p.m.; her views on this matter; and the plans, if any, she has to review rural policing. [2175/94]

Enda Kenny

Question:

68 Mr. E. Kenny asked the Minister for Justice if she has discussed with the Garda Commissioner his statement of 18 September 1994, regarding policing procedures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2049/94]

Theresa Ahearn

Question:

84 Mrs. T. Ahearn asked the Minister for Justice her views on the proposal to reduce the opening hours of approximately 25 Garda stations from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. so as to make available additional gardaí for patrolling the streets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [467/94]

Helen Keogh

Question:

93 Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Justice the reasoning behind the recently announced proposals to close down certain Garda stations after 10 p.m. in the Dublin area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2020/94]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 68, 84 and 93 together.

Let me stress at the outset that I have no proposals from the Garda Commissioner to reduce the opening hours of any Garda station in the Dublin area and I understand from the Commissioner that he has made no such proposals.

However, in an article inThe Irish Times on 19 September 1994 he referred to a number of policing issues which have an important influence on the service that the Garda Síochána provide to the public. In doing so he was attempting to broaden the public debate on policing and policing options. In this context, by way of an example, he questioned the need to have all 42 Garda stations in the Dublin Metropolitan Area open to the public on a 24 hour basis as many of these would have very few callers between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

I agree there is a need to have a broader and more reasoned debate on policing and what we expect from our police service among the general public and indeed here in the House. The Commissioner pointed out in the press article that it is generally perceived that if a Garda station is open to the public for 24 hours per day the people somehow get a better police service. However the Commissioner states, "the reality is that the more stations we keep open to the public for longer periods reduces correspondingly our ability to patrol the streets". In this example, the Commissioner estimates that a minimum of an additional 4,200 man hours per week could be made available for patrolling in a proactive and visible way on our streets.

The question the Commissioner is raising is what we want from our police. Do we, for example, want them sitting in Garda stations in the middle of the night waiting for the occasional caller or do we want them patrolling the streets to the maximum extent possible? I will be listening with interest to the views of Members of this House and those of the public on this issue

With regard to the issue of rural policing referred to by Deputy Mitchell I can inform him that I am in consultation with the Garda authorities regarding a review of the community policing scheme for rural areas to ensure that its objectives are being met at present. I am also anxious to ensure that there will be sufficient consultation with local interest groups before any decision is made to extend the scheme to additional areas.

With regard to the question of whether I had discussions with the Commissioner in connection with policing procedures. I can inform Deputy Kenny that I regularly meet with the Commissioner to discuss matters in relation to crime and policing generally. The details of such discussions are, naturally, confidential.

I note the Minister is interested in hearing my views — and those of other Members but, since they do not have access to the Garda Commissioner or his advisers, I suggest to the Minister that to get the reaction of the Opposition. She might put before the House her views on this proposal. Will she state whether she accepts the argument put forward by the Garda Commissioner?

The Garda Commissioner put forward his account inThe Irish Times article — I do not have the date — to broaden the ongoing public debate in relation to policing in urban and rural areas. In an attempt to put before the public his views in relation to how he saw policing and policing duties developing in the years to come, he referred to 42 Garda stations in the Dublin area. He did not say he was putting forward proposals that they should be closed, nor has he put such proposals to me, and until I receive them, it would be foolish of me to make a decision based on my own assessment of something that has not come before me. I agree with the Garda Commissioner, and I believe Members also agree, that we want more visibility of gardaí on our streets. I am sure members of the public would be very concerned if they felt gardaí were sitting in Garda stations, between the hours mentioned by the Commissioner, answering two or three telephone calls during the night or waiting for an occasional caller between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. if the alternative was to have those gardaí patrolling the neighbourhoods in which those stations are located. I do not have a recommendation from the Garda Commission, however, and until such time as he might make such a recommendation to me I am not in a position to make a decision.

Is the Minister saying that the Commissioner made no such proposals to her Department at any time, that they are not now — and have not been — considered by her Department and that she has no view on the matter? Also, may I ask the Minister——

Let us try to avoid repetition if we can. It is a luxury we cannot afford.

Parliament is becoming a luxury we cannot afford. In relation to rural policing, will the Minister say whether the "green box" is on the way out and if we are likely to see the presence of gardaí on the ground in rural areas?

The Commissioner has not made any proposals to the Department on the basis of the article he wrote inThe Irish Times.

Did he do it on any other basis?

No. Proposals in relation to the closure of the 42 specific Garda stations to which he referred in the article have not been put by him to the Department or to me. In relation to rural policing, the "green man" to which Deputy Mitchell refers is a communication link whereby if somebody calls to a Garda station which is closed, they speak through the communication link, not to a recorded message on a machine, but to a garda in the district headquarters.

I think some people are confused about the "green man" but it gives them instant access to members of the Garda Síochána who in return respond to the relevant request. Also, we are endeavouring to ensure that the system where somebody rings a Garda station, the Phoneplus system, which now operates in quite a number of Garda stations will be extended to all Garda stations throughout the country. In other words, rather than the telephone ringing with nobody answering it, the call will be automatically diverted to the nearest district headquarters, thereby giving the caller immediate access to a member of the Garda Síochána. The communication link is not on the way out, rather I see it as an aid or a support to the scheme of rural policing. In the past, however, Governments and commissioners were not very good at explaining to the public, when we brought in changes in policing, what they meant or indeed in asking for opinions. I am concerned that, in the case of rural policing, we explain fully to the community served by rural policing schemes what exactly the scheme is about and how they can help and support it because, in the areas where that was done, it is working very well.