Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner must, before November each year, submit a policing plan for the following year to the Minister. The Commissioner must include in that plan any proposal to either open or close a Garda station. It will, therefore, be towards the end of this year before the Policing Plan for 2013 is received, approved and published.
Members will be aware that the Garda Commissioner proposed the closure of 39 Garda stations in his Policing Plan 2012, many of which were only open for limited periods, eight of which were non-operational, some for many years, and one of which had been non-operational since 1985. Almost all of the closures have taken place and the process will be completed by end June this year. In commenting on these proposals in the policing plan the Garda Commissioner said, "These decisions were only made after careful analysis and research and I am confident that this action will result in a more efficient delivery of policing services".
It is not practical to give a precise figure for the savings resulting from the closure of Garda stations. Savings on heating and lighting bills would be minor and would vary from station to station and savings resulting from avoidance of repair bills would vary depending on the condition of stations and would be difficult to calculate. The key point is that the closures are not about minor savings but the more effective deployment of gardaí on operational duties. The issue is whether for any given Garda force strength we want more gardaí in stations or more gardaí on operational duties.
Critics of these closures are in effect arguing that we should not close even one of the 703 garda stations that have been, more or less, in place since the foundation of the State, despite the revolution that has taken place in transport, communications and technology since then. Not only do they not accept these realities or the professional judgment of the Garda Commissioner about how best to deploy gardaí but they ignore the international evidence. For example, Scotland, with a population of 5.2 million people - a directly comparable jurisdiction in many ways - has only 306 stations, which is less than half the 703 garda stations we had at the beginning of this year.
Additional Information not given on the floor of the House.
I fully support the Garda Commissioner in his efforts to deploy gardaí more effectively so as to enhance the policing service. In that context, it is worth noting that new garda rosters were introduced last week on a pilot basis. These new rosters, which are separate and distinct from the issue of rationalising the station network, have been developed following detailed consultations between Garda management and the Garda representative associations under the Croke Park agreement. They are designed to maximise the deployment of gardaí at times of peak demand, while at the same time improving the work-life balance of members. This is another example of improved efficiency and effectiveness in the Garda Síochána which we should all support.