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.