An Garda Síochána: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

- acknowledges the central role that An Garda Síochána has played in providing security to the State and people of Ireland since its foundation;

- recognises the vital need for a well-resourced, strong Garda force in tackling the evolving threat of criminality in Ireland;

- accepts the views of the Garda Commissioner that he would not like to see the strength of the force drop below 13,000 members;

- agrees that Garda stations play a pivotal role in the fabric of rural Ireland by upholding their central position in the life of the towns and villages they serve and their part in effective on-the-ground community policing;

- accepts with grave concern the disturbing rise in burglary levels across the country, particularly in commuter belt areas, and the impact this has had on the safety and security of the family home across the country;

- agrees that the increase in the disturbing number of illegal dissident actions in the past number of months and the growing threat of dissident terrorist activity is unacceptable;

- condemns the rise in gangland-related murders in 2012 and the ongoing threat of gangland violence across the country;

- strongly disagrees with the draconian closure of 140 Garda stations across the State, with over 100 stations due to close on 31 January 2013, particularly in vulnerable rural areas and in busy urban stations such as Stepaside and Kill O' the Grange in Dublin;

- fully opposes the covert reduction in Garda numbers to dangerously low levels through the whittling away of the Garda payroll, which jeopardises the force;

- vehemently disagrees with the Government’s failure to address the degradation of the Garda vehicle fleet, which has an integral part in tackling crime; and

- calls on the Minister for Justice and Equality to:

- reopen Templemore to Garda recruitment to ensure the force does not fall to negligent strength; and

- reverse his attack on the physical infrastructure of rural Ireland and stop the impending closure of Garda stations across the country.

I wish to share time with Deputies Michael McGrath, Billy Kelleher, John Browne, Brendan Smith and Michael Moynihan.

We have debated the issues in this motion on many occasions but it is worth reminding ourselves of the Minister's announcement that has provoked it. The manner in which the Minister announced to the people the closure of an additional 100 Garda stations on budget day was very regrettable. I described it as cowardly. An e-mail announcing the Minister's adoption of the Garda policing plan was sneaked out on budget day in the middle of the news upload.

At the start of this debate, we must note that the Minister has not taken political responsibility for his decisions. He is responsible for removing Garda stations from communities right across the State against the will of the people and the advice being given to him, including by many of his Fine Gael colleagues throughout the country. Many Fine Gael members expressed to me privately their disgust and dismay over his actions. It ill behoves the Minister to say at any opportunity that these are merely decisions of the Garda Commissioner. The draft policing plan is given to the Minister and it is within his gift to accept, reject or amend it in any way he sees fit.

The Government views Garda stations merely as unnecessary bricks and mortar, or as a kind of nuisance within communities across Dublin and in many other parts of the country, including very rural areas. The Minister is seeking to resile from his responsibilities and from acknowledging the benefit the presence of Garda stations brings to many communities right across the country. He must be put on notice that many in his party are against his proposal. He need only turn on any local or national radio station to confirm this. Fine Gael chairmen of joint policing committees and Fine Gael cathaoirligh of county councils are confirming it. Fine Gael councillor Mr. Michael Ryan, Mayor of Templemore, was on the telephone to me almost 15 minutes ago and he was completely beside himself over the direction in which the Minister is taking the policing service and An Garda Síochána.

The Minister fails to recognise that the presence of An Garda Síochána in every community is a significant deterrent. He tries to explain his decision away by asking us to note that there are fewer police stations in Scotland and Northern Ireland, suggesting that we should emulate them. There is no recognition of the fact that our population is dispersed completely differently from those in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Throughout the country, people are suffering from the effects of cuts across a spectrum of services. These cuts are now having an impact on Garda stations. The Government has cut the number of community welfare officers and it is seeking to cut the number of small schools. It is considering banks and credit unions.

It is the Deputy's party that destroyed the banks.

It now wants to remove the presence of An Garda Síochána. The Minister is saying to communities, the elderly and the vulnerable that they should contact the Garda on Facebook and Twitter, and that clinics will be held. There is no policing or financial argument to back up what the Minister is doing in removing the deterrent that a Garda station represents in every community.

With regard to Garda strength, I have asked the Minister on many occasions to nail his colours to the mast. He says he will reduce the number of members of the force to 13,000. We heard two weeks ago that he has not given the Garda enough to fund its payroll costs this year, with 13,400 members. We were told the payroll budget would only fund a force of 12,000. What is the strength that the Minister has in mind? Is it 13,500, 13,000 or 12,000? Will he not tell us the truth? The Minister is being put on notice by senior Garda management in the Phoenix Park that it does not have the necessary budget. The Department could not confirm or deny that the Garda Commissioner has an adequate payroll budget to meet the demand this year. Despite this, the Minister will boast openly about changed rosters. Any garda on the street will tell the Minister that if the force drops below 13,000, the new roster will be completely unworkable and will not function coherently.

When will the Minister be fair to communities and gardaí? Since he is also Minister for Defence, will he explain why he recruited 600 new members to the Defence Forces while refusing point blank to recommence recruitment to An Garda Síochána and open up Templemore for training? There are members of the force who can retire at any point. What will be the position if the strength of the force drops below 13,000 or approaches 12,000 because of an insufficient payroll budget? How low will the Minister allow the strength to drop when communities are vulnerable? He is removing gardaí from communities and asking that we take away their local knowledge and face-to-face contact. He is asking that we allow gardaí to operate on some kind of satellite basis. What he is effectively doing is reducing An Garda Síochána to a glorified Neighbourhood Watch scheme in many rural areas and urban parts of Dublin. Despite this, he sits opposite us in complete denial.

The Minister is completely detached from the reality of people who are feeling vulnerable in their homes throughout the country. The numbers of burglaries, gangland crimes, crimes against the person and cash-in-transit robberies have increased. In spite of this, the Minister likes to quote statistics which I am thankful indicate a trend in the right direction, but all of these crimes are affecting people significantly throughout communities.

The Minister may not want to listen to me or my party colleagues, but he should note that there are no members of his party present tonight to lend him moral support. When we listened to what his party's members are saying to us right across the country, we concluded that he is pretty much on his own. He is probably the only man in the Fine Gael Party who believes in his agenda. Any cursory examination of returns to society would indicate to the Minister that he should be investing in An Garda Síochána. Retail Ireland tells us that €850 million per annum is the cost of crime to the country. This is not my figure or that of my party. If the Minister invested in tackling and eradicating crime, he would achieve a positive rate of return, yet he refuses to do so.

There is a crisis of confidence in the Minister. The people are not confident that he can lead the Department of Justice and Equality and lead An Garda Síochána in the direction it needs to go to deal with crime.

The Minister is in denial about the withdrawal of the face-to-face interaction members of the Garda Síochána bring when they work and live in the communities across this country. He is oblivious to the positive effects of that engagement. He appears to think that withdrawing the services from all these rural communities will accrue some kind of financial saving and lead to a modern police service. Smarter policing is not about taking away face-to-face engagement and dealing with people in a manner that allows on the ground intelligence to be gathered and the police know what is going on in their communities.

The Minister has to listen to me, his own people, the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors whose members are telling him exactly what I am articulating. He has to listen to what the Garda Representative Association is saying about the direction in which he is leading the force.

It is not too late for the Minister to resile from his decision to close community Garda stations. Public meetings are taking place throughout the country. Public meetings are taking place tonight in Gorey, County Wexford.

And one on Sunday.

They are taking place throughout the country in opposition to the direction in which the Minister is bringing the Garda Síochána. The Minister should listen to his own people on the ground and resile from this decision.

I call Deputy Michael McGrath. Deputy Collins has taken some of Deputy McGrath's time. I ask Members to adhere to the time allocated to them.

I begin by expressing my sympathies to the wife and family of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe who was so callously killed last Friday night in County Louth. Like those who gunned down Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare in 1996, those responsible for this murder are nothing other than ruthless criminals, cowards and callous killers. I know that everybody in this House joins with the Minister in wishing the gardaí every success in tracking them down and bringing them to justice.

I compliment our justice spokesperson, Deputy Niall Collins, on bringing forward this motion. I want to be clear that we fully accept that there is no connection whatsoever between the horrific events of last Friday night and the contents of this motion.

I refer to the issue of the closure of Garda stations and what I regard as the downgrading of the Garda force. I read the Fine Gael manifesto today to see if the Minister had told people two years ago in the general election that that is what he intended to do but I was surprised to find in the manifesto that two years ago Fine Gael stated that it will put an increased emphasis on community gardaí and encourage members to live in the communities they serve. It went on to state: "We do not believe that the closure of rural Garda stations will deliver any significant savings to the State." That is all the Minister had to say to the people two years ago on the future of Garda stations. He left them with the clear impression that Garda stations throughout the country, particularly in rural areas, were safe under Fine Gael yet we now know that the truth, as in so many other areas, is altogether different from the promises he made to the people.

Cork county will be very seriously affected by the closures this week and no doubt by future changes the Minister and the Garda Commissioner are planning. In Cork alone the following stations are closing - Barrack Street, McCurtain Street, Mallow Road, Rathduff, Ballinspittle, Adrigole and Meelin. A number of other stations will have their opening hours substantially reduced including the Bridewell, Mayfield, Watercourse Road, Glanmire, Gurranabrather and Togher.

The net effect of that in Cork city is that the second largest city in the country will now have one 24 hour station serving the entire population. The Minister is leaving the Garda force in Cork city in a threadbare state. He is giving encouragement to the criminal world, the people who seek any excuse to engage in criminality. They will now be given greater opportunity by virtue of the cutbacks that he and the Garda Commissioner are implementing. That will be the effect of it.

We all know that this is not the end of the Minister's agenda and that there will be more cuts and more Garda stations closed as a result of his initiatives. I live in a substantially urban constituency but people in Crosshaven and Passage West, in County Cork are deeply concerned that they will be next on the Minister's target list. I want the Minister to give a reassurance to the people tonight that this is the end of what he is proposing in regard to the downgrading of the physical infrastructure, the Garda stations and the opening hours in Garda stations throughout the country.

What the Minister does not appear to grasp is that the Garda station is the focal point in a community, particularly in a rural community. Somebody living in that community will be far more inclined to walk into the local Garda station. They might have built up a relationship with the local garda and will be more inclined to pass on information and intelligence to that garda than if that garda and a colleague are driving through their community at 50 or 60 km/h in a Garda car. That is the reality and that is the consequence of what the Minister is doing. That type of Garda model which has been so successful in recent decades and which is based on trust and building up relationships in the community is centred on the local Garda station. That is now being systematically dismantled with 95 stations closing on Thursday and further stations closing throughout the course of this year and perhaps beyond that.

I plead with the Minister at the very least to give people information as to his plans for the future. He should let them know what his plans are for future consolidation of stations throughout the country because this will have an impact and it will give succour to criminals who are looking for any opportunity to carry out their trade.

I, too, wish to express my deepest sympathies to the family of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe and to the members of the Garda Síochána throughout the country.

It is hard to believe that we are standing here discussing this issue in view of what the Minister said on this side of the House over many years about Garda recruitment, the need to have gardaí living in communities and the need to expand Garda stations as opposed to what we are now seeing, which is the systematic dismantling of Garda stations.

My concern is that it is now obvious that the Minister does not understand what policing is about because when he was on this side of the House he was very forceful in the idea of having integration and community-based policing whereby the community and the Garda Síochána worked as one. He said on many occasions that rural stations and small sub-stations throughout the country were an integral part of that. We now find that under the policing plan announced by the Minister he is systematically dismantling and undermining all that has been achieved in recent years in trying to develop a cohesive Garda Síochána that is represented in every community.

There is a very strong attachment between the people and the uniform that has served this country so well for many years. We now have a situation where the Minister is absolving himself and pointing the finger at Garda management. The fact is that the Minister is ultimately responsible. He is the one who signs off the policing plan and he is the one who argues either effectively, or in this case ineffectively, at Cabinet to deliver resources for policing in this country. It is clear that the decisions he has made are completely opposite to what he espoused for many years when he was on this side of the House and in the Fine Gael manifesto with regard to Garda numbers, police stations and community policing. That has now been stripped bare by the decisions the Minister is making.

I attended a meeting last week in Rathduff about the station closure there and there is huge concern about that. The people of Rathduff and Grenagh are rational. They listened to the members of the Garda Síochána management who outlined what would be in their area but people need reassurance and the greatest reassurance they can have is knowing there is a Garda station and a uniformed presence in their community. That is the critically important factor. These stations have served communities for many years and they have become an embodiment of those communities.

We saw statistics with regard to Grenagh and Rathduff being one of the safest areas in which to live in terms of the number of burglaries, aggravated assaults and all the other crimes. Those show emphatically that a Garda station located in a community acts as a deterrent but, more important, it gives comfort and peace of mind to the many people living in that community that in the event of something happening there can be a rapid response.

More important, it acts as a deterrent in the first place. The evidence the Minister presents that these closures will not have an impact on response times, community policing and the correlation between a Garda presence and crime prevention does not stack up. When he was on this side of the House, he argued the exact opposite. At this stage, the Minister should rescind his decision and start a consultation process. In fact, he should start a consultation process with his own backbenchers, first because, to a man and to a woman, they are lining up at public meetings condemning the closure of Garda stations.

That is true. Deputy Connaughton is very upset.

His backbenchers are pointing out the mistakes the Minister is making in stripping away the positive resource of a station in a community and serving that community. The idea the Minister can single-handedly decide these closures are good for An Garda Síochána simply does not stack up.

Another issue the Minister raised continually when he was on this side of the House – it was almost an obsession with him – was the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank. It is clear he has stripped resources from that investigation as well as we are almost two years into the Minister's tenure but there has been no result. He once hailed himself as the saviour of this investigation. I do not expect him to comment too much on it as it is before the courts. However, when he was on this side of the House he suggested there was in some way political interference or cover-ups by the previous Government into the Anglo Irish Bank investigations. This was one of the most distasteful suggestions made by any Deputy in this House. Now the Minister is on the Government side of the House, will he clarify for the record as to what obstructions were put in place by the previous Government in the investigation of potentially criminal acts in Anglo Irish Bank? He promised he was going to lock up the whole lot of them but two years into his tenure, we are still waiting.

We are still waiting.

The Minister is sitting on his hands, completely oblivious to what he said when he was on this side of the House. The Minister should be honest enough to admit his policy on Garda station closures is flawed and that highlighting the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank was deeply cynical.

I join the expressions of sympathy to Caroline Donohoe on the death of her husband, Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. This cowardly killing was an attack on our democratic institutions, as well as our country, and certainly cannot be tolerated.

I compliment Deputy Niall Collins on moving this motion. In 2012, the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, stated the closure of rural Garda stations would impact on communities. This directly refutes the statement from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, that the closures would lead to the more efficient deployment of personnel and the more effective delivery of policing services to the public, including those in remote areas. Has the Garda Commissioner changed his mind or has the Minister ensured he was forced to change his mind? The Minister continually refuses to confirm the number at which the force should remain in the coming years. Reductions in Garda numbers jeopardise the Garda management's plans for the force and will force it to redraw its strategy. Will the Minister clarify his position on what the force's full complement should be?

Garda stations are very much part and parcel of rural communities. Last year the Minister closed stations throughout the country, with 100 more to close by the end of this month. There are concerns and fears in rural areas that people living there will no longer see a Garda presence in their communities. The Minister spoke about smart policing.

We could do with a smart Minister.

Is this policing by e-mail or the one hour a week a garda will be allocated to a local community centre? More often than not, that garda will have no contact or built up any relationship with the local people. Under the old Garda station arrangement, the local garda built up a knowledge of and a camaraderie with locals who in turn would have a strong faith in him or her.

When the Minister was in Opposition, he claimed a complement of more than 14,000 gardaí was required to provide an adequate policing service. Obviously, he has changed his mind on this. If the slash and burn of the moneys he has proposed for 2013 are effected, the force will probably be down to 12,000 gardaí, a complement that will decimate Garda effectiveness.

The Garda Commissioner needs to stand up to the Minister and tell him how short of staff the force is and the shortage of Garda vehicles, many of which are old with high mileage. This morning on a radio programme it was pointed out that most Garda cars would not pass the NCT. Courtesy cars are provided by car manufacturers to sports stars and visiting dignitaries. I am sure if the Minister had the wherewithal, he could negotiate with car manufacturers to provide vehicles for the Garda at a reduced rate.

In County Wexford, the Garda stations at Glynn, Kiltealy, Ballywilliam and Baldwinstown were all closed last year. Every garda in a rural area is being pushed into urban Garda stations. They are now trying to provide a service from the urban centres to rural areas with no facilities provided to them to achieve this. There is too much red tape and bureaucracy meaning gardaí are spending too much time filling out forms and policing by e-mail. Many gardaí tell me they get an e-mail from their superintendent on a matter to which they then have to respond. There is no more taking up the telephone and sorting the problem out through a conversation. Instead, three or four days are spent with e-mails going back and forth about a problem when it used to take one telephone call to solve it.

Last week in the Enniscorthy district, five patrol cars were broken down at the same time. The Minister talks about providing a satellite policing service from the towns into rural areas with the closure of some rural stations. How can the Garda do that from Enniscorthy when five out of its six patrol cars are not operational? Enniscorthy has lost seven gardaí in the past 18 months with only two replacements provided. Accordingly, the district has the lowest number of gardaí per head of population. Enniscorthy is also the first town on the main Wexford-Dublin road criminals from Dublin hit as all others before it – Arklow and Gorey – are bypassed. The town and its surrounding areas have seen a significant increase in robberies and attacks. This cannot be allowed to continue. However, the reduced numbers of gardaí deployed in the town cannot deal with this development.

The local knowledge from being based in a local Garda station is a must for gardaí to carry out their work. With the stroke of a pen, the Minister will now do away with this, claiming rural Garda stations are not needed and leaving their communities with no proper policing service but a satellite one.

Tonight, there will be a public meeting in Gorey, County Wexford, on the downgrading of its Garda station.

The population of Gorey doubled during the Celtic tiger era, while Courtown became almost as big as Gorey had been previously. Some 5,000 people are living in the Courtown area at the moment. They will lose their gardaí. The Gorey Garda station will be downgraded and my home town will be the major Garda centre. It is totally wrong. The population of Gorey and Courtown warrant a proper Garda presence and service. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to seriously consider reviewing the downgrading of the Gorey Garda station. Significant numbers of people have come from other areas to live in Gorey in recent years. Significant numbers have come to live in Courtown as well. There are drugs, crime, vandalism and all the other things that happen when a population becomes too big and where there are massive housing estates but few services being provided. I call on the Minister to seriously consider reviewing the downgrading of the Gorey Garda station, to ensure it is given the status it has had up to now and to allow it to continue in its present format.

The Minister should come clean on the future closure of Garda stations. It is an open secret in Wexford and the gardaí there have informed me that the stations at Ferns, Oulart, Oilgate, Rosslare, Carrigbyrne, Clonroche, Ballycullane and Campile will all close in the coming year or 18 months. There are two Garda stations in Rosslare, one in the harbour and another in the port, which is one of the biggest ports in Europe, but the Minister is considering closing one of the Garda stations there. It is not good enough. The Minister has reneged on all the commitments he gave when he was on this side of the House. Now he expects the Garda to provide a service with 12,000 gardaí in future, although he stated only two years ago that operating numbers should be 14,500.

The Minister might also comment on the closure of Whitehall Garda station.

I wish to convey my deepest sympathies to the family of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. I offer my sincere condolences to Adrian's wife and children, to his parents, Hugh and Peggy, and to his brothers, sisters and extended family. Adrian is from a highly respected and much admired family in Kilnaleck in my county of Cavan.

The callous and deplorable murder of a garda on duty has shocked the country. It is a tragic loss to his family, An Garda Síochána and communities in Louth and Cavan. I sincerely hope the criminals responsible for this evil deed are brought to justice quickly. As our party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, said earlier today, last Friday night was indeed a bleak moment for the entire country. As Deputy Michael McGrath noted, that evil deed of last Friday night is not connected to the motion under discussion this evening.

Over many decades An Garda Síochána has provided an excellent service to our State and its citizens, and it continues to do so. The service has been provided in every village, parish, town and city. Like any good service, it may sometimes be taken for granted by us, as citizens. A good proposal advocated by Fine Gael before the general election was to put an increased emphasis on community gardaí and encourage members of the force to live in the communities they served. Naturally, like so many other promises, that proposal has been totally abandoned with the savage assault on the Garda station network throughout the country, especially in the north west of the country.

In my constituency, three Garda stations have already been closed - namely, those in Tullyvin, Clontibret and Smithborough. They were closed by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter. Now, he proposes to close six more stations, at Bawnboy, which is in my home village, Redhills, Stradone, Shantonagh, Corrinshigo and Newbliss. The Ballyconnell district is being merged into Cavan district. Unfortunately, those communities will lose their local stations. This move represents a shocking level of cuts to our local Garda resources.

This slash-and-burn decision was sneakily announced by the Minister on budget day. It makes absolutely no sense to remove the Garda presence from our communities on such a large scale at a time when the rate of burglaries has increased. The presence of a local Garda station, however small, acts as a deterrent to criminals who target vulnerable households. The concerns of local communities are well articulated not only by public representatives of every party but by many organisations, including farming organisations such as the IFA and Muintir na Tíre.

As Deputy Niall Collins stated earlier, social media will never replace the local knowledge and intelligence that is gathered by a garda who is really local to his community. The value of a visible Garda presence should never be underestimated. Our local radio stations are constantly airing interviews with people in isolated communities throughout rural Ireland who feel increasingly vulnerable in their homes. The Garda Representative Association, whose members are at the front line of policing, has described the closures as a serious blow to community policing. One of the most important resources available to gardaí is the support of the local community. That support is cultivated and nurtured through strong relationships between locals and gardaí on the beat, and the local Garda station is an integral part of that infrastructure.

I come from the Border region. The parish I grew up in borders County Fermanagh. I know from when I was a youngster of the value of local knowledge to the Garda during the difficult era when paramilitaries were creating havoc in the province of Ulster. Many gardaí worked beyond the call of duty to ensure that vulnerable young people who were not getting the necessary support at home were kept out of the clutches of paramilitaries. This came about through local knowledge and through the network of Garda stations. That is the type of preventative action that we should never underestimate.

I wish to sympathise with the wife and extended family of Detective Garda Donohoe and with the Garda Síochána and, by extension, the State, following his horrific murder last Friday evening. Almost everyone in the House has spoken of it today.

This motion is about the staffing of Garda stations in the future, and every Member has spoken. I compliment Deputy Niall Collins on tabling the motion to discuss the future of the Garda Síochána and the drive within the system and within the Department of Justice and Equality to close down rural Garda stations.

I come from a rural part of County Cork. Elderly people in rural communities, and indeed entire rural communities, feel very vulnerable at the moment. Not one day or week goes by without people hearing stories about robberies or attempted robberies in rural communities. This brings to the fore the issue of further rural isolation, especially for the elderly. A highly respected member of the community I come from, who had given years of service to his community as a successful footballer in his prime and who went on to become a carpenter for many years, was subjected to a robbery between Christmas and the New Year. He was 91 years of age. This brings home the vulnerability of these people. The entire community gathered together to support him.

When criminals come in from large urban areas to rural communities it highlights the issue of the closure of Garda stations. One station in Meelin is closing this week. This adds further to the isolation. Despite all the statistics on policing and so on, the most important part of policing, already referred to in the debate this evening, is intelligence gathering and the belief among rural communities that An Garda Síochána is in touch with what is happening.

It is proposed that in the coming months there will be an alteration of the Garda district in Kanturk, some of which will be taken into Mallow and some into Macroom.

It leaves the entire Duhallow region without a 24-hour Garda station. It is a rural barony and a huge part of County Cork. The gardaí who have served the area through the generations have developed a great deal of expertise working from the barracks in Kanturk. It is not acceptable to the people of Duhallow in particular and the Cork region in general.

We have had Topical Issues and Private Members' debates on these matters which have shown that the savings which have been generated from cutting service hours in community Garda stations or closing or streamlining them are minuscule. The closure of Garda stations represents an attack on small, rural communities which feel more and more isolated as time goes by. There must be an acceptance by Government and Garda management that people feel vulnerable. We have seen the statistics on crime in rural communities. People are living in fear in their own communities which is deplorable.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "DáiI Éireann" and substitute the following:

"acknowledges:

— the vital role of An Garda Síochána in providing security to the State and protection to the public; and

— the investment of €4 million in the Garda fleet in 2012 which provided for the purchase of a total of 213 vehicles and the additional allocation of a dedicated €5 million for the purchase of new Garda vehicles in 2013;

recognises:

— the importance of ensuring the continued capacity of An Garda Síochána to combat crime effectively and welcomes the Government’s commitment to maintain resources at the highest possible level;

— in particular, the value of the recent significant reforms in An Garda Síochána in making more efficient use of resources and delivering a more effective policing service; and

— the continued success of An Garda Síochána in tackling crime, reflected in the downward trend in most categories of crime;

supports, in particular, the measures being taken by An Garda Síochána to tackle organised and gangland crime, including extensive drug seizures and associated arrests, as well as on-going operations to disrupt and prosecute criminal terrorists; welcomes the continued impact Operation Fiacla is having in tackling burglary around the country, with the arrest of 3,538 persons and 1,924 persons charged between April and December 2012; and resolves to continue to support An Garda Síochána in the prevention and detection of crime and the bringing of criminals to justice."

I wish to share time with Deputies Paul Connaughton and Eamonn Maloney and ask that the Chair indicate when I have reached 20 minutes. I may go over that time, which the Deputies know.

Many tributes have been paid in the House to Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe following his dreadful murder on Friday night. It was a repulsive and cowardly act which was rightly condemned throughout the country. Adrian's funeral is taking place tomorrow. It is a time of national mourning at the loss of a fine member of An Garda Síochána. Bearing this in mind, we suggested to Fianna Fáil that the debate should be postponed as a mark of respect until after the funeral had taken place. We wished to avoid creating the appearance by engaging in political controversy that the House is insensitive to the great grief people are suffering. We wanted nothing to happen in the House which would detract from the sending by the House of a united message of condemnation of the brutal killers who are solely responsible for the death of Detective Garda Donohoe and complete support for the efforts of An Garda Síochána. Following approaches to Fianna Fáil on Sunday, we learned yesterday morning that Deputy Micheál Martin was unwilling to postpone the debate for even the few days required. There will be general disappointment that when leadership was required, Deputy Micheál Martin allowed a situation develop where all that was forthcoming was ill-timed opportunism and politics as usual. While I accept that nothing in Fianna Fáil's motion dealing with the adequacy of resources relates to the dreadful events of last Friday night, it is regrettable that agreement could not be reached. It only required some insight and involved basic decency and common humanity.

As the debate is taking place, I am bound to deal as fully as I can with the terms of the motion before the House. It is notable that some Fianna Fáil speakers ignored important aspects of their own motion. Nevertheless, let there be no doubt that Fianna Fáil's debate is, in the circumstances, inappropriate, deeply cynical and completely dishonest. The motion is based on an assumption that the general public suffers from amnesia and that Fianna Fáil-led Governments were not in office for a continuous period of 14 years up to and including 8 March 2011. Any attempt by Fianna Fáil to criticise me as Minister for Justice and Equality or the current Government as to the allocation of resources to An Garda Síochána is demonstrative of a level of breathtaking hypocrisy it would be hard to beat. Such criticisms airbrush conveniently from public debate the last Fianna Fáil-led Government's National Recovery Plan 2011-14 which was published on 24 November 2010 on the eve of the agreement with the troika of 3 December 2010.

Among the many headaches I inherited when I was appointed Minister for Justice and Equality in March 2011 was the need to unravel the expenditure ceilings for the justice sector contained in the Fianna Fáil-led Government's national recovery plan which, if applied, would have resulted in devastating cuts in Garda services which I would not and could not stand over. The budgetary resources proposed in Fianna Fáil's national recovery plan were unacceptable and would have put the Garda Commissioner in an impossible position. Fortunately, I was able to secure additional funding for the three-year period 2012 to 2014 to ensure that sufficient funding was available to the Commissioner to allow the Garda to continue to deliver an effective policing service. I secured €2.243 billion for 2012, which was €118 million more than had been allocated by Fianna Fáil. For 2013, I secured funding of €2.2 billion, which was €191 million more than the Fianna Fáil allocation. For 2014, I secured €2.065 billion, which was €105 million more than the original Fianna Fáil allocation as set out in its own plan. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Fianna Fáil has the brass neck to stand in the House and tell me I am not giving the Garda Commissioner sufficient resources to enable his force to police and engage with local communities, counter criminal gangs who are intent on terrorising communities across the State and provide for a sufficient Garda fleet. I ask the proposers of the motion to consider their own national recovery plan and to reflect on where the Garda Síochána would have stood with an average of €90 million less each year for 2012, 2013 and 2014. This was the legacy Fianna Fáil was happy to bequeath to the Government. Members will understand why it is difficult to listen to the hypocritical guff spouted by Fianna Fáil. It is a bit like having someone trash your house and then criticise you as you struggle to clear up the mess.

The Fianna Fáil motion is critical of the reduction in Garda numbers. Once again, the party appears to have forgotten that its national recovery plan covered in detail the reductions in public service numbers to be effected in the period 2010-14. It is their document which details the reduction in Garda numbers from 14,500 on 31 December 2010 to 13,500 on 31 December 2011 with a further reduction to 13,350 to have been effected by 31 December 2012. The plan sets out a further requirement to reduce numbers to 13,150 by 31 December 2013 and to 13,000 by the end of December 2014. The number of members of the Garda exceeds today the reduced number Fianna Fáil intended to secure by way of its own plan by the end of last year. By implementing crucial reforms such as the new Garda rostering system and effecting efficiencies within my Department, we have succeeded, with the assistance of the Garda Commissioner, in maintaining essential frontline policing services and purchasing additional vehicles for the Garda fleet, for which no provision was made in the 2010 arrangements. In that context, talk of the degradation of the Garda fleet is an absolute nonsense. Instead of the reduction in numbers foreseen for the end of 2010 to 13,350 members, we have maintained 13,430 members while staying within budget, which is some 80 members more than Fianna Fáil envisaged. By freeing members of the force from unnecessary desk jobs by the closure of stations which the Commissioner advised had no operational significance, approximately 160 additional gardaí have been made available for frontline policing.

Even more astonishing is the reference in Fianna Fáil's motion to the reopening of Templemore College to Garda recruitment to ensure the force does not fall to what Fianna Fáil describes as "negligent strength". Deputy Niall Collins and his colleagues have failed to refer to the fact that recruitment to the Garda was ended by my predecessor Dermot Ahern and to note that the last recruits entered Templemore in 2009. The last substantial cohort graduated in June 2011. No reference is made in the national recovery plan Fianna Fáil published in November 2010 to the recommencement of Garda recruitment. It may interest Members to know that the question of recruitment is under active consideration with a view to maintaining the force at an appropriate strength. It is an issue which I will address with my Cabinet colleagues during the course of the year. In short, people should treat with scepticism and disbelief the criticisms contained in the Fianna Fáil motion and voiced in the House and the shopping list the party prescribes.

It is clear from the motion that its proposers fail to recognise the reforms implemented which are improving the effectiveness of An Garda Síochána. Their reaction is to oppose everything and their objective is to reform nothing while predicting dire consequences resulting from beneficial change. Fianna Fáil's objective is to generate substantial and unnecessary public alarm and concern for self-serving perceived party political gain.

It goes without saying that no Minister would choose to have to operate in this appalling financial position. Notwithstanding this, I have done everything possible to maintain the resources available to An Garda Síochána at the highest possible level. There is a budget of more than €1.4 billion available for the force in 2013 and, by any standards, this is a substantial amount. It is also worth noting that despite the cuts in last year's budget, I managed to make available some €4 million that enabled the purchase of 213 new Garda vehicles in 2012, something of which Deputy Browne seemed to be blissfully unaware. I have also secured dedicated funding of €5 million for the purchase of a significant number of new vehicles in 2013.

I am also very pleased that the provision of three new Garda divisional headquarters for Kevin Street in Dublin, Galway and Wexford was included in the special Government stimulus package announced last July. I believe that the provision of these facilities will significantly enhance Garda capacity to carry out its functions more effectively. The projects are to be delivered by means of a public private partnership and discussions are currently taking place between the relevant agencies in the light of the Government announcement.

I will address the question of the closure of some Garda stations. In 2012, 39 stations were closed, eight of which had not been opened for a number of years. Their closure was a paper exercise which simply recognised a reality concealed by my immediate predecessors. Many more were only one or two-member stations. This year, following a comprehensive assessment by the Garda Commissioner of the Garda station network, a further 100 are listed for closure in the Commissioner's policing plan for 2013. This recommendation is based on an operational assessment by the Garda Commissioner. It seems Deputy Niall Collins wants me to second-guess the operational expertise of the Garda Commissioner, which I will not do. Prior to the closures which took place last year, the Garda station network was essentially the same as the Royal Irish Constabulary network in 1922. It seems that Fianna Fáil favours the King's network of police stations as in 1922 rather than what is needed in the Ireland of 2013.

The Minister favours none.

Such a large-scale static deployment of resources is no longer appropriate in the present day where the transport and communications infrastructure have been transformed beyond recognition. The Garda Síochána has a class-leading police computer system, a state-of-the-art digital radio system and a transport fleet which is currently receiving significant investment. The new Garda roster currently being piloted provides a better match between Garda availability and policing demand. All of these developments enable the Garda Síochána to be more mobile and flexible and to deliver a more effective policing service.

We also need to be honest about the level of policing service that was capable of being provided from the stations that were and are to be closed. Of the 100 stations to be closed in 2013, 98% are open part-time, 94% are open for three hours a day or less, 88% are served by one Garda and only 5% are served by three or more Garda personnel. I find it extraordinary that any Member of this House should think that a station open for three hours in the morning is a deterrent to criminal activity. Some critics have complained that the station closures will save only small amounts of money and, of course, in doing so, they completely miss the point. The objective is to maximise the time our well-trained and highly skilled gardaí spend on operational duties. This is about smart policing and the most efficient and effective deployment of Garda resources. It is the Garda Commissioner's view that a country the size of Ireland with a population of 4.5 million does not in the 21st century need 700 Garda stations. It is nothing less than scaremongering to suggest that reducing that network to 564 stations is a cause for fear and anxiety. The Garda Commissioner has concluded that in his professional opinion, a more effective and efficient policing service can be provided by releasing gardaí for front-line service in the communities concerned. By way of comparison, there are 83 police stations in Northern Ireland for its population of 1.4 million, with plans to reduce the number, and 340 stations in Scotland for its population of 5.2 million. In the London metropolitan area, 66 police stations are due to close, leaving 73 police stations open to the public. Are the naysayers seriously suggesting that with the advances we have seen in modern policing, transport and technology, we should act as if time has stood still since 1922?

Commissioner Callinan has stated that the revised structures will continue to support the Garda community philosophy through the clustering of services at policing hubs. This centralisation of services will facilitate the introduction of enhanced patrolling arrangements which, in turn, will provide increased Garda visibility as well as maintaining existing Garda links with communities throughout the country. The objective will be to ensure that the best possible policing service will continue to be provided to our communities.

In addition, the Garda has recently acquired a number of vehicles which are being converted into mobile Garda offices and it is planned that they will be assigned to areas where Garda stations have been closed to ensure members of the public can continue to conduct ordinary business and interact with members of An Garda Síochána. I am entirely confident that following the Garda station network consolidation process which is taking place, An Garda Síochána will continue to provide a professional, efficient and effective policing service to all communities.

Stations are owned by the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Minister of State with responsibility for public service reform and the OPW has confirmed that if an appropriate community management structure is put in place, the closed stations can be utilised for local community purposes and this can be of considerable benefit to a variety of local voluntary organisations which currently lack appropriate facilities. It is important to reiterate that the planned closure of Garda stations will not diminish community policing which is at the heart of policing in Ireland. This has been consistently emphasised by the Garda Commissioner, and his annual policing plan for 2013 highlights the importance of An Garda Síochána working with communities to tackle behaviour that affects the quality of life of people in our cities and towns.

In addition to the role that all gardaí have to play in community policing, there are more than 1,000 gardaí dedicated to community policing countrywide. Gardaí continue to work closely with all communities to enhance community safety through a wide range of local fora such as community alert and neighbourhood watch. My Department, along with the HSE, has for many years supported the work of the community alert programme, which was set up in 1985 by Muintir na Tíre in association with the Garda authorities. This programme has since developed into a national movement comprising more than 1,300 local groups which work with the Garda to promote crime prevention and improve the security of older and vulnerable persons in the community.

Without doubt, the single biggest transformation project in the Garda Síochána and arguably in the public service has been the development and implementation of a new roster system in the force. Not only does the new roster provide a more effective policing service, it also protects the health and welfare of the members of the Garda Síochána. The new roster system ensures that resources are optimally deployed when and where they are required to every part of the community, both rural and urban. Evidence of the new roster is immediately apparent on our streets as more gardaí are on duty at times of peak demand and fewer during quieter periods. This is essentially what this reform is about - doing things differently but doing them more effectively. I am firmly committed to ensuring resources remain at the highest level possible that will enable the Garda Commissioner, his senior management team and all members of An Garda Síochána to continue to deliver an outstanding policing service to the people.

In response to allegations about increased crime levels in the country, the crime statistics for the 12 months ending on 30 September 2012, which the Deputies opposite choose to ignore, show reductions in 12 of the 14 crime groups. Crimes against the person are down, including homicide offences, which are down by 17.9%, sexual offences, which are down by 0.7%, and assault and related offences, which are down by 9.5%. Public order and damage to property offences are also down by 12% and 9.3%, respectively, as are drug offences, which are down by 7.1%, and weapons and explosives offences, which are down by 17.4%. It is worth saying in the context of drugs that the success of the Garda has resulted in the seizure of drugs in 2012 to a value of €100 million. Burglaries, however, increased by 10.3% during the period. They increased during that period in the context of the 100 Garda stations that are to be closed still being open, thereby proving without any doubt that the existence of those stations acted as no deterrent of any kind in respect of the upsurge in burglaries that occurred.

I am acutely aware of the concerns which exist about the incidence of burglaries and also the corrosive effect which the fear of crime can have on community morale. In particular, I am concerned about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable people. In response to the increase in the number of burglaries, Operation Fiacla was set up by the Garda Commissioner and is particularly focused on identifying and targeting mobile gangs involved in burglaries throughout the country. Operation Fiacla has been and continues to be extremely effective. In the period from April 2012 to the end of December 2012, it resulted in 3,538 persons being arrested and 1,924 persons being charged.

In addition, the latest quarterly figures for burglary suggest that Operation Fiacla is having an impact, when compared with the quarterly figures prior to its introduction. These figures, taken together with the robust response of the Garda in tackling gangland crime and the activities of paramilitary organisations, are clear evidence that while the Garda cannot avoid the economic realities, it has been more than able to continue to respond effectively to crime. With regard to aggravated burglaries, I assure the House that the Garda is taking all available measures to respond to this type of crime, especially the shocking incidents which we have seen recently and which have resulted in arrests. While statistical improvements are clearly no consolation to those who have endured dreadful experiences at the hands of burglars, it is nonetheless important to mention that the most recent crime figures show the number of aggravated burglaries is down when compared with the previous 12 months.

I share the widespread outrage at gang related criminal activity and fully appreciate the concerns of communities on whose streets this violence takes place. The brutal nature of these crimes is a stark reminder to us of the mentality of those involved in organised criminality and the danger which they pose to our society. I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner about all aspects of serious crime and the Garda will continue to bear down heavily on the activities of those involved in gangland crime. The only effective way to combat organised crime is by disrupting and prosecuting those involved in its operations and especially the drugs trade, which is at the heart of much of its profits. We should not underestimate the difficulties the Garda faces in trying to prevent gangland killings and related crimes and in bringing the perpetrators to justice. These crimes are carefully planned and carried out by people who are familiar with criminal and forensic investigation techniques. Despite the clear risk to themselves, members of gangs will not generally co-operate with Garda investigations. Despite these difficulties the Garda has been able to bring a number of individuals before the courts, particularly in a number of high profile killings in the past couple of years, although it will be some time before those cases are disposed of.

I want to be categorical in stating this is not a budgetary matter. In this context, the Commissioner has made it clear that where resources are needed to combat serious and organised crime, they will be made available. The number of gangland murders was, in fact, higher when Garda numbers were higher than they are today. It is also unrealistic to expect that the Commissioner would devote his entire resources to protecting individuals who are routinely trying to avoid the Garda in order to continue to engage in criminal activity. Such an approach could only come at the expense of ordinary Garda activity to protect the community generally.

I will now briefly discuss the issue of criminal terrorism. Despite the many positive developments in recent years in Northern Ireland, the Garda never let up in its efforts to counteract those criminal terrorist groups whose only objective is to drag our island back to a dark past. The force has a proud record of standing in defence of the State. The Garda will continue to be fully supported and resourced in its efforts to counter the activities of these subversive criminals. The fight against terrorism has been an absolute priority for the Garda authorities. That will not change. I assure the House that gardaí continue to co-operate seamlessly with their police and security counterparts in Northern Ireland in bearing down on these groups to stop their activities. The shared objective of the Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland is to enhance community safety on the whole of this island. We will continue, in co-operation with the authorities in Northern Ireland, to spare no effort to ensure that those criminal terrorists who seek to subvert the democratic will of the people will face the full rigours of the law.

Members of the Garda Síochána are more than members of a police service. They are called into an enormous variety of situations on a daily basis which, as we saw last Friday, can result in enormous tragedy. These calls bring with them attendant risks which they must assess and deal with regularly. We must fully appreciate the work they are doing on our behalf for they are, in the words of Robert Peel, members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. In this respect, a safe society is the responsibility of every member of that society and not just the Garda. The interconnection between gardaí and the community is a vital one in the successful delivery of a policing service in Ireland. Neither I as Minister nor this Government will shirk in our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure the connection is not broken and that the best possible resources are made available to An Garda Síochána. On a day when we should all stand united in our support for An Garda Síochána, it is regrettable that Fianna Fáil insisted in debating this divisive, disingenuous and dishonest motion.

I join other Members in expressing sympathy to the family of the late Garda Adrian Donohoe, as well as his colleagues in the Garda Síochána. I know that the members of the force are determined to bring those responsible for this heinous crime to justice. This was a very serious crime, as an attack on a Member of the Garda is very much an attack on the country. Many details of this case remain sketchy but the fact that Garda Donohoe was shot in such brutal circumstances makes clear that criminal gangs in this country now have no respect for life or the price for taking one. This Government recognises the central role that the Garda plays in ensuring the security of the State and the need for a properly resourced police force. As a representative of East Galway, I am only too aware that a number of Garda stations in the region are to close. However, while I understand the fears of local communities, the interaction with local people rather than the location in which that interaction takes place is crucial and, to that end, the size and mobility of the force must be maintained at all costs.

Galway has seen its fair share of burglaries over the past number of months and this has resulted in unease at the decision to close some of these Garda stations. In recent days, I have been contacted by members of the community alert group in Kilconly, County Galway, who made a very valid suggestion. Kilconly Garda station is among the stations in east Galway that is due to close and the members suggested that the married quarters attached to the station be advertised among gardaí. The garda who resided there would work in Tuam and would give an undertaking to reside there for three to five years or until moving jobs. A nominal rent could be paid to the OPW. The benefit for the community is that it would have a garda residing locally. Such arrangements could be worked out throughout the country to the benefit of both the garda involved and the local community. Most rural communities want to retain the link with members of the force, even if they work in a divisional station outside the immediate area. It would also have the benefit in that a significant number of gardaí would still be living in rural areas and interacting with local clubs and schools. One concern about closing rural stations is that, increasingly, gardaí and their families will live in the larger towns where divisional stations are located and large swathes of the countryside will not be home to gardaí. The suggestion of Kilconly community alert group deserves serious consideration in the coming weeks.

The Garda must be properly resourced in terms of equipment, technology and, particularly in a rural context, mobility and transport. Having spoken on this topic to numerous concerned rural residents, I believe that greater investment is needed in the Garda transport fleet if the force is to be able to respond properly to current crime levels in rural areas. I welcome what the Minister, Deputy Shatter, had to say about the €4 million provided last year and €5 million this year to bring the fleet up to date. A number of gardaí have pointed out to me that while they understand the concerns about the closure of Garda stations, their biggest concern is the availability of squad cars.

Community alert schemes are particularly important in a rural context. While they can never replace local gardaí, they offer an important complement to the work of gardaí in rural areas. However, many areas, including many local areas in County Galway, remain without a community alert scheme, or else the local scheme has been allowed to lapse. Some new schemes have been initiated in recent times but usually only in response to a particular spate of burglaries. The Garda should work with local community activists to set up community alert schemes in a proper way. The goodwill and local knowledge of groups such as the GAA and IFA can be put to good effect in bringing people together to raise awareness and ensure that they are cognisant of the need to maintain good security measures in their homes and vigilance for suspicious activity in their locality. The funds spent to date on community alert have been fruitful and these schemes could, with further investment, become an important asset for the Garda in fighting rural crime. I urge the Ministers for Justice and Equality and the Environment, Community and Local Government to draw up a plan and funding model for community alert projects.

In terms of Garda recruitment, I understand that many members of the Garda Reserve would love the opportunity to join the force. These people, who have shown such dedication to policing, should be given an opportunity to join the force when the next recruitment campaign gets under way. I welcome the announcement by the Minister that a discussion might take place on this issue.

I extend my sympathy to the family of Adrian Donohoe and his colleagues in An Garda Síochána. I welcome any debate on policing in Ireland.

Since the start of this Dáil, we have certainly not debated policing in any great depth and a debate is long overdue. There is an attitude among the public that policing as applied here over the past 50, 80 or 90 years remains applicable in today's world. It is not, but as with everything else here, policing and politics included, we are slow to change. However, in many respects, An Garda Síochána as a force has moved and embraced technology and changes, far more than politicians. Elected politicians seem to be afraid to move an issue like policing into the modern age and no better example of this than the confines of this discussion on Garda stations.

Most of the population does not care too much about the concrete buildings that are Garda stations or whether there are two or three stations in the neighbourhood. People are more concerned with the nature of policing. Just because a police station closes does not mean there will be no policing. Some opportunists connect the two, but I believe that is dishonest. Reference was made earlier to the position in Scotland. Like Ireland, Scotland has both large urban and rural areas and while its system has its shortcomings, some of the changes that have taken place in policing there have been dramatic and have proved very beneficial. I refer in particular to community policing.

I live in the third largest centre of population in this country, after Dublin and Cork. In Tallaght, there are over 100,000 people, putting us ahead of Galway and Limerick, and we do not have five stations or 25 stations. We have just one Garda station. As the Minister would be proud to boast, last year crimes in certain areas there declined. I believe that is due to the way in which the area has embraced community policing. We must do the same as politicians. We cannot keep telling people we must have a Garda station on every corner so that everyone will feel safe. We must get away from that.

What is forcing us to change is technology. People have a sentimental attachment to Garda stations, which is understandable, but that was all very well when policing was done from push bikes. That has all changed. We will miss our opportunity to change if we believe for a second that the criminals in society have not embraced technology. That would be fooling ourselves. As legislators and in conjunction with the Garda, we must embrace technology. That is how we control and diminish crime.

I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Colreavy.

Fianna Fáil has a hard neck to speak about cutbacks to Garda stations. In November 2008, my party colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, who was then a Senator, published a document entitled Awakening the West, which documented how rural communities were being hammered by the Government. The Government at that time was a Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition. By November 2008, almost half of all the Garda stations in Cork, Kerry, Clare, Galway and Roscommon had been reduced to one garda operating on a part-time basis. In many of those cases, Garda stations were closed on Sundays and opening hours during the week were limited to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Even at that time, the limited opening hours and lack of Garda strength in rural stations gave rise to the perception that Garda services were ceasing to exist in many rural areas. There were towns where there was no Garda service for miles around. This all took place under the watch of Fianna Fáil.

At the 2009 annual conference of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, the then president, Michael O'Boyce, warned that the government was driving experience out of An Garda Síochána and that a rising number of members of all ranks, who could and who wanted to continue to serve the country, were considering retirement. A year later, at the 2010 annual conference, he confirmed that, sadly, his warning proved correct. In one Garda division alone, numbers were down by 20 in the recent months. He also pointed out at that conference that, disgracefully, there were no students in the Garda college for the first time in its history and that due to government policy, there would be no students in the college for a long time to come. He went on to say that An Garda Síochána was contracting due to the direct action of the government, that experience was being driven out and no new blood was coming in and that this was pushing the force to the brink of disaster.

What was the Fianna Fáil response to this? Its current justice spokesperson, Deputy Niall Collins, called for the outgoing president of the GRA, Michael O'Boyce, to be removed from the force by the then Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy. The current Government is implementing Fianna Fáil’s 2010 national recovery plan when it comes to Garda cuts, the deal Fianna Fáil negotiated with the troika. Fianna Fáil agreed with the troika to cut Garda numbers from 14,500 that year to 13,500 the following year and to 13,000 in 2014, a total drop of 10%. Its plan also stated that there would be €25 million in savings from unspecified Garda management efficiencies and €140 million savings in overtime, allowances and transport costs, much of it within the force. Is the public expected to believe that Fianna Fáil has now seen the error of its ways? Increasing Garda strength could have been achieved by continuing the process of civilianising Garda administrative services to international standards. This would also have created valuable local employment for civilians.

In a 2007 report, Policing in Ireland - Looking Forward, the Garda inspectorate found that in many instances small rural stations were serviced by one officer, answering to a district headquarters, but mostly operating alone without ready access to supervisors, an official car or Garda IT systems. The inspectorate recommended the implementation of a consistent rural policing model that enhances visibility and makes best use of Garda resources in serving local communities. A centralised Garda service will increase rural isolation and undermine the people's sense of security in their homes. There is increasing evidence that police station closures can lead to an increase in crime. In England, where rural services have seen similar cutbacks in police services, crime figures have surged. Violent crime rose by 119% in country areas between 1988 and 1989 and 2006 and 2007 compared with a national increase of 108% that year.

I met the Assistant Garda Commissioner, Kieran Kenny, in Donegal last week, after the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, withdrew from talks on the extension of the Croke Park agreement, saying it would not tolerate further cuts in pay. The reason I, along with my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, asked to meet the Assistant Commissioner, was to discuss policing in Donegal, where attacks on old people in their homes have caused devastation to their lives and worry and stress to their families. In some cases, such attacks have forced older people to leave the homes they have lived in all their lives.

I received assurances An Garda Síochána has taken steps to combat these attacks in Donegal. A specific operation, operation LEAH, has been put in place, providing extra personnel and resources to the area. The Assistant Commissioner reported that 11 arrests have been made on both sides of the Border and some stolen property has been recovered.

This kind of Garda operation should be the norm, rather than the exception, all over the State. It should not take a crisis, like that which happened in County Donegal, for the force to be properly resourced. I commend the gardaí in County Donegal on their actions. They should not have had to wait for 11 aggravated burglaries to happen before the Government gave them the resources to address these crimes. If one speaks to gardaí in any part of the State, they will tell one that they fear they can no longer provide a service to the public. Both representative organisations recognise the seriousness of the situation.

The news that another 100 Garda stations are to close is a serious blow to rural Ireland as well as to some urban communities which have already suffered disproportionately under the cuts regime imposed by this Government and its predecessor. This savage attack will also see certain rural Garda districts being amalgamated into 14 districts as part of an effort to centralise in urban areas the policing of huge swathes of rural Ireland. Perhaps this aspect of the Government's plans has been overlooked because of the focus on Garda station closures. The amalgamation and centralisation of rural policing in more urban areas is also a big challenge.

The Irish Farmers Association, which represents rural Ireland, and the Garda Representative Association, which represents the vast majority of gardaí, have repeatedly rejected these ongoing station closures. Unlike those who were in charge of drafting the Government's proposals, those involved with the two associations know rural communities and appreciate the value of community policing. According to an IFA survey, more than 10% of farmers have been victims of crime. The challenge of trying to square police statistics for reported crime with surveys showing that many people do not report more minor crimes is being faced internationally. It should not be the case that people are not willing to report crime, but sadly it is. It means that official statistics do not give us an accurate reflection of the true levels of crime. That is an international phenomenon and an issue in Ireland.

The Government has been attempting to spin its reform of policing structures, but we all know that the austerity agenda is at work under the mask of reform. This work was commenced under Fianna Fáil and it is being continued. Fianna Fáil has a brass neck to have tabled this motion tonight. Deputy Niall Collins has been around politics a while. He knows it very well. Nobody has been fooled by this motion. The facts speak for themselves. We recall what happened when the then president of the Garda Representative Association, Michael O'Boyce, spoke the truth. When the then Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, was presented with a draft of the speech by Mr. O'Boyce he decided not to bother showing up at the association's annual event. He was unwilling to take the heat and deal with the implications of the decisions his Government had taken over the previous two years.

Just two years have passed since Mr. O'Boyce delivered his speech. I do not believe the people of this country are suffering from some kind of collective amnesia, they have a clear memory. Fianna Fáil has shown that it is determined to go ahead with the debate on this motion over the next two days, despite the Minister and the Government calling on it not to do so. I agree with them on this occasion. This motion will fool nobody and will achieve nothing for Fianna Fáil. The debate on the important issue of Garda resources will be diminished as a result of Fianna Fáil's decision to force this motion to a vote tomorrow evening.

In view of the night that is in it, I do not propose to dwell on the motivation of the party that has tabled this motion, other than to say that it proposed major Garda Síochána cutbacks to the troika when it was in power. Leaving such hypocrisy aside, this motion merits the support of the House despite its provenance. Every Member of this House recognises the important role that gardaí play at the forefront of our communities, in dealing with everyday issues such as traffic management and more serious concerns of crime. For that reason, an attack on local Garda stations is an attack on our communities.

I do not need to remind people about the high-profile burglaries that have taken place throughout the north west recently. These burglaries have caused panic and alarm among many residents, especially elderly people. Many rural areas of my constituency, Sligo-North Leitrim, are sparsely populated. Many of my constituents are frightened about what the closure of local Garda stations will mean for them. Every person in this country has a right to enjoy the comfort of safety, protected by the knowledge that a member of the Garda Síochána in the local area can be contacted in case of an emergency. The closure of these Garda stations has removed that vital sense of security. In addition, the invaluable local knowledge gained by gardaí living in small towns and villages will be lost forever. In my constituency, the Garda stations in Aclare, Ballyfarnon, Easkey, Cloone, Dromod, Keshcarrigan, Dromahair, Glenfarne and Cliffoney are to be closed. All of these stations are vital parts of their respective communities. The environment for the residents of the areas in question has been changed for the worse.

The Minister has claimed that the Garda station network was established at a time when gardaí travelled on bicycles. As I have pointed out to him previously, criminals are no longer using bicycles for transport. A gang can carry out a spate of burglaries in an area before moving quickly to another area, or another jurisdiction, with little chance of detection. A criminal gang that carries out robberies in County Sligo or County Leitrim could come from County Galway or County Tyrone, or vice versa. Gardaí must be equipped in a way that allows them to respond to crimes swiftly. Their visual presence in an area, especially a rural area, must be seen as a form of deterrent for criminal gangs.

There has been a reduction in the manpower available to the force. The training college in Templemore has been closed for a number of years. Older gardaí who have retired have not been replaced. There is a risk that the number of active gardaí in our communities could fall to a dangerously low level. Cuts in allowances and overtime payments to gardaí have also hindered the manpower of the force. An adequate number of gardaí should be on duty at all times to ensure the needs of people are catered for. The criminals responsible for the recent attacks on communities and on gardaí are not ignorant. It would be dangerous to disregard them as fools. They are serious and clinical in their actions. They are capable of the most heinous crimes. It is likely that they are monitoring this debate. They are probably looking at the areas where stations are being closed and planning their actions accordingly. The Minister is putting communities at risk by ordering these closures.

I wish to share time with Deputy Halligan.

I would like to begin by expressing my sympathy to the wife, family and Garda colleagues of the late Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. While I will support this motion, it needs to be said that it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. We have to remember that Fianna Fáil initiated the closure of Garda stations, started the reduction in Garda numbers and stopped the recruitment of trainees at Templemore training college. During the 2011 election campaign, the parties that comprise the current Government said they would overturn all of that. They gave commitments to support the Garda, ensure the Garda college reopened, begin a proper recruitment campaign and ensure the force was fully resourced. They have reneged on all of those commitments. They have taken over the policies that were pursued by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in the last Government.

We have lost 1,200 gardaí in the last couple of years. The number of personnel in the force has been reduced from 14,500 to 13,300. I call on the Minister to reopen the Garda training college in Templemore immediately. We have had no new recruits since 2009. No new gardaí have passed out since June 2011. Recruits need to be trained in Templemore if we are to fill the vacancies that are arising.

The numbers are becoming dangerously low and I call on the Minister again to open the college immediately.

The Minister should come clean with regard to his plans for the Garda. We know that 39 Garda stations closed last year and that 100 will be closed before 31 January, which is this Thursday. In Tipperary, five stations are involved - the station at Grangemockler has already been closed, and those at New Inn, Dundrum, Terryglass and Rearcross are to be closed. During his speech, the Minister gave a clue when he spoke about the centralisation of Garda services, which is the nub of everything that is happening. We centralised medical cards and made a complete mess of it, then we centralised student grants and made a complete mess of that too. Such services, particularly Garda services, should be local and available to local communities.

I too have some difficulty with the motion and, under the circumstances, I consider that perhaps it should have been withdrawn. However, it is here, and I want to say a few words on it.

Although this is not a criticism of him, when the Minister puts forward proposals, I often wonder what consultation takes place. I know he consults his advisers and they consult him and advise him on how best to present this to the public and so on. The Minister would have consulted the Garda Commissioner, although I am not sure whether he consulted gardaí on the ground; many of those with whom I have spoken said he did not. I also wonder about the communities affected by the closure of rural stations. Were they consulted and what are their views, having lived with a local station over a period of time?

Given the serious crime problem, people need to have confidence instilled in them. They need people in authority to tell them "We are there for you and we can help you." I accept there would still be a certain amount of crime in rural areas if we had rural stations; there is no question about that. Criminals have become cute and sophisticated, and they watch, listen and learn. However, where the damage has been done is in the many rural areas where people are under an onslaught of burglaries and crime. For the Minister to announce at this time that he intends to close rural stations and get rid of the local gardaí in those stations has distressed many people and put them under pressure.

I can give only small examples. In my own constituency, a very serious crime was committed in an outlying area in which an elderly couple living near the seaside were viciously assaulted and tied up. A garda said there was no doubt the place was cased and that the criminals drove out there and looked at it carefully. They would have had to drive along very bad rural roads and then drive away from the crime. The nearest Garda station was some 15 miles away, so they knew that with no rural station in the area, they had a better than ever chance of carrying out this crime and getting away without being caught. This is what people are thinking when they see a rural station closing down. They feel the station in itself is a form of security and a deterrent to criminals who might want to case the area. Again, I am not saying it is the be-all and end-all of solving crime in rural areas, and I am pragmatic about that. However, I come back to the point about consultation with residents' groups representing those living in rural areas, who are under immense pressure at present with the local garda gone. The PR has been pretty bad because we consult everybody else from the top of the Garda Síochána organisation to Members of the Dáil, but we do not go out to the communities and tell them what to do and what we offer in return. Instead, they must hear it on a radio programme or in a debate in which one of us will debate against another as to what is best for them. That is where the failing was. The Government has Deputies in most areas in cities and counties, and those in rural areas should have been instructed to tell people what alternatives were available. If that had been done, perhaps the criticism would not have been as bad.

I am not an expert so I do not know whether the Minister's plans will work. They may well work, and we will perhaps come back in a year or two and say we were wrong, that the crime rate has gone down and that there are more gardaí in patrol cars. I tend not to believe that, based on the geographical positions of roads in rural areas and the fact that more and more criminal gangs are beginning to go into burglary because there is safe and easy passage for them in those areas.

My main criticism is not so much of the Minister but of the fact that the Government failed to consult and failed to do a good PR job with the people in those areas to explain to them what the alternative might be if this happened.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 January 2013.