Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

School Accommodation Provision

I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Joe McHugh.

I too welcome the Minister. I wish to talk again about St. Joseph's secondary school in Rush. The Minister will recall that on 6 November last I had a Commencement matter on the urgent need to provide temporary accommodation and that he announced on that day that the application had been approved. We spoke then about the need for a permanent new school building. I wish to remind him that St Joseph's is a secondary school with 1,000 pupils and that it is the only secondary school in the town of Rush. Rush and all of the towns in north county Dublin are expanding rapidly. It is the fastest growing part of the country with the youngest population. Obviously, there is a very strong demand there for primary and post-primary school places.

The capacity issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. At the time the Minister approved four prefabricated buildings because there was a crisis. There are 102 students on the waiting list for places in September 2019 who could not be offered places. Thankfully, that issue has been resolved. I mentioned at the time that there was no extra capacity to expand in the school.

Enrolments in the primary schools in the town of Rush had indicated a similar demand for places next year and into the future. At that time, the Minister said he was actively pursuing a site for the school. St. Joseph's secondary school has an excellent reputation in Rush and beyond. Its principal, Ms Patricia Hayden, and the teaching staff in the school do an excellent job. It is a DEIS school and linked into the Trinity access programme. There is 100% progression to third level and apprenticeships from the school, which the Minister will agree is exceptional. This year, the school had six entries in the BT Young Scientist exhibition. As there was only one other school in the country with a higher number of entries, that is an exceptional record, particularly when one considers that the school does not have sufficient science laboratories. All credit must go to the principal, the teaching staff and all the other staff in the school and, of course, the commitment of the parents to the school.

The young people of Rush want to be educated in this school. They demand to be educated in it, but capacity makes that very difficult. It is worth noting that secondary schools in the neighbouring towns of Lusk and Skerries are also experiencing capacity issues. As such, they will not be able to accept any overflow of students from Rush. On 6 November last the Minister said a site was being acquired. However, when my colleague, Councillor Brian Dennehy, a Fingal county councillor who lives in Rush and whose children attend St. Joseph's secondary school, tabled a motion on the matter to Fingal County Council on 8 November, he was told by a senior official of the council that there was no instruction from the Department of Education and Skills to acquire a site. As I understand it, that remains the position. We were all dismayed with the response received to Councillor Dennehy's motion because we had been led to believe this announcement was imminent. There has been land zoned in the town for the school for ten years. Following on from the work of Councillor Brian Dennehy in Rush, upgrading works on the Park Road are due to commence imminently, which will allow for access to that site. When will the Minister issue a request to Fingal County Council to acquire this site and when will construction of the new school commence?

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it allows me the opportunity to clarify the position on St. Joseph’s secondary school, Rush, County Dublin. I acknowledge that my colleague, Senator James Reilly, has kept me up to speed on this issue. The school is currently located at Convent Lane, Rush and consists of a number of buildings, some permanent accommodation and others prefabricated accommodation. The site is limited for development due to its size and location in the centre of the village in a settled residential area and it was determined that a new site was required to facilitate provision of sufficient permanent accommodation for the school.

The school’s trustees have recently confirmed to my Department that they are not in a position to provide a site to accommodate a new school building. Following on from this, officials of my Department have requested the assistance of officials in Fingal County Council in procuring a site for the school under the memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of school sites. Under the memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of school sites, local authorities assist my Department with the process of identifying and acquiring sites for the development of school accommodation. The first step in this process is the identification of suitable sites by the local authorities. The identified sites are then technically assessed on a joint basis by officials from the local authorities and my Department's professional and technical staff.

The Senator will appreciate the importance of a thorough appraisal of site options at this point to ensure the achievement of value for money and minimise the potential of any issue arising during the planning and development stages. The relevant local area plan provides for the location of a post-primary school site in the Kenure area of Rush. My Department understands this site was reserved by Fingal County Council on foot of representations made on behalf of St. Joseph’s secondary school. To date, access issues have inhibited the potential development of this site but Fingal County Council is working to deliver a new roadway which would facilitate such development. Engagement between my officials and council officials on the potential acquisition of the site is ongoing. It is difficult to indicate a timeline for completion of the acquisition of a site for the school in question as it is dependent on the outcome of current negotiations and also on the complexity of the conveyancing process.

Once a site has been acquired the project can progress to architectural planning.

I assure the Senator that my Department is cognisant of the school's current accommodation constraints. The Department received an application for temporary accommodation from the school. Subsequently, it issued approval, in principle, to the board of management for the rental of two science laboratories - one being a technical graphics or design communication graphics room and one general classroom - as an interim measure, pending delivery of the permanent school building. The responsibility for the installation of this accommodation has been devolved to the school authority for delivery.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir faoi choinne an seans labhartha leis an Seanad inniu ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo.

I am sorry, but it is unsatisfactory to say the engagement is ongoing. We had been led to believe acquisition was imminent. Fingal County Council requires a direction from the Minister and his Department to acquire the site. As the site has been zoned for ten years, it has been sitting there. The access issues have been resolved. The upgrade of the park road is imminent and should be completed by the end of the second quarter of this year. There is no reason the Minister cannot issue the instruction to acquire the site. It is not good enough for him to come here and say engagement is "ongoing" and claim there are complex conveyancing reasons. This is completely unacceptable. We have been led to believe by plenty of local representatives that this project is a done deal, that there will be a new school and that the devil and all will be done. It is clear from the Minister's reply that the acquisition is not imminent. It is an absolute disgrace that children in Rush are on this site without a playing pitch, a library and with inadequate science and woodwork rooms. There is simply a capacity issue. Next year there will not be any room. There is no room for any further prefab on this site. There will be great anger in Rush when people realise the Minister is not even on the verge of issuing the instruction to acquire the site.

For the purposes of clarification, it is important for me to point out what my role is, as Minister, in site acquisitions. I do not issue instructions to buy a preferred site. There is a memorandum of understanding, which is an engagement between the local authority - not just Fingal County Council but all local authorities - and the Department of Education and Skills. As part of that process, there is a communication between departmental officials and Fingal County Council to ensure a number of preferred sites are put on the table. It is up to them to ensure the communication is open and transparent. The Senator has stated a county councillor said that there is no engagement ongoing between officials-----

A senior official from Fingal County Council called Coilín O'Reilly-----

I am not going to allow this.

-----in a response to a motion tabled by Councillor Brian Dennehy-----

I have been very fair to the Senator.

Let us clarify that.

Let us find out who is not telling who the right information.

As far as I am concerned, my officials are engaging. That process has started. Now we have to-----

Ultimately, the Minister issues the instruction to buy the site.

Will the Senator, please, allow the Minister to conclude?

Now we have to ensure we prioritise the younger people who are looking for a satisfactory building for their education. That is my priority.

The Senator has raised an issue and claimed that there is a blockage in communications. Let us get to the bottom of the matter. Let us find out and continue the work that we do on a bipartisan and cross-political basis. In my engagement, whether it be with the Senator or Senator Reilly, I am happy to find out what the problem is. Let us find out what it is and get to the bottom of it. Importantly, I do not decide-----

As we are three minutes over time, please let the Minister conclude. If Senators are not happy - I cannot allow Senator Reilly in - this matter can be revisited again. Three other Members are waiting for-----

I am happy to come back to the Senator with any information.

The purchase of the site is not imminent.

The purchase of the site is not imminent.

Please, Senator.

That is not correct.

The Minister clarified it.

That is not correct.

The Minister has clarified that the acquisition is not imminent.

Never the twain might meet. I thank the Minister. We will move on to the next matter.

Senator Clifford-Lee's information is out of date. I was in contact with Fingal County Council earlier and it confirmed that it was liaising with the Department to acquire a site.

I cannot allow the Senator in.

It is important that that information be recorded in the House.

I do not want any argy-bargy involving two Senators who live in the same constituency. I am trying to be fair to everybody and there are other matters to be dealt with. I am sure this matter will be revisited, perhaps when I am gone.

National Planning Framework

Senator Lawlor has the next matter. He has a maximum of four minutes. Some Members think it is the minimum but it is the maximum.

The Cathaoirleach can rest assured that I will not use the four minutes.

Go raibh maith agat. Ar aghaidh leat.

First, I congratulate the Minister of State on his nuptials over Christmas and wish him and his good wife all the best for the future. Given his positive news over Christmas, I hope he will have positive news for me.

Under objective 19 of the national planning framework, local authorities are imposing different interpretations in the context of planning decisions. I am sure the Cathaoirleach has had experience of this also. I am seeking definite clarification and, if necessary, a circular should be sent to local authorities on the exact intention of it when the Minister put it forward. When he came before the House previously, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, stated what it should be. It should not compound the issue for people who are justifiably applying for planning permission and able to get it. I look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say in clarification.

I thank the Senator for his brevity.

Do not tempt fate.

I thank him for his congratulations also.

The Senator is correct that this is a major issue in rural areas. It is fair to state, however, that rural housing has been a major issue for 20 years, not least in the Senator's area of north Kildare. I will outline the position from the perspective of the recently announced national planning framework, NPF. It was published in 2018 and sets out the overarching strategic planning approach underpinning the sustainable development of both urban and rural areas in the period to 2040. To articulate the broad content of the NPF in clear and understandable terms, the framework contains national planning objectives to guide and inform the planning process.

National policy objective 15 of the NPF fully supports the concept of the sustainable development of rural areas. It seeks to encourage growth and arrest decline in areas that have experienced low population growth or population decline in recent decades, while also highlighting the need to manage certain areas around cities and towns that are under strong urban influence and under pressure from unco-ordinated and ribbon-type development in order to avoid overdevelopment of those areas. Some of that took place in the past, particularly in areas close to large urban centres. This is supplemented by national policy objective 19 which points to the need to ensure that in providing that rural communities meet housing requirements a policy distinction should be made between areas experiencing significant overspill development pressure from urban areas, particularly within the commuter catchments of cities, towns and centres of employment, and other remoter and weaker rural areas where population levels may be low, declining or both.

In the context of weaker rural areas, objective 19 provides that the determination of planning applications for single houses in the countryside should be based on general siting and design-based criteria for rural housing in statutory guidelines and plans, having regard to the viability of smaller towns and rural settlements. These criteria include matters such as landscape, vehicular access and wastewater disposal. On the other hand, where development pressures and the risk of haphazard development in the vicinity of larger urban centres as designated in local authority development plans are evident, objective 19 advises that it is reasonable that the determination of applications for housing in such rural areas should be informed by considerations beyond the siting and design criteria for rural housing contained in statutory guidelines and plans. In particular, account should be taken of whether there is a demonstrable functional requirement for such housing in social, economic or occupational terms and whether such development, of itself or in combination with existing and permitted development, would lead to detrimental haphazard and unco-ordinated development.

These objectives represent a balanced approach, consistent with long-standing Government policies on sustainable development and previous planning guidelines issued in 2005 under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act. Planning authorities are required to have regard to these guidelines on sustainable rural housing in the framing of planning policies in their development plans and the assessment of individual planning applications for rural housing.

Under the 2005 guidelines, planning authorities are required to adopt a balanced approach to ensure the housing needs of rural communities are met, while avoiding excessive urban-generated housing and haphazard development, particularly in the areas we have mentioned. Accordingly, the objectives of the national planning framework are aligned with the approach that is already expected of planning authorities under the current guidelines.

Arising from a European Court of Justice ruling in the Flemish decree case which is of relevance to the local needs criterion, the 2005 guidelines are being reviewed by a working group comprising officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and representatives of planning authorities nominated by the local government sector. It is likely that many of the planning applications referred to by the Senator fall into the categories of the local needs criterion or the 2005 guidelines. The Flemish decree which linked the sale or transfer of property in certain Flemish communes with the condition that there should exist a sufficient connection between the prospective property buyer and the relevant commune was ultimately and perhaps not surprisingly deemed by the European Court of Justice to be in breach of Article 43 of the treaty on the freedom of movement of citizens. Following engagement between the Department and the European Commission further to the case and subject to the completion of the working group's ongoing deliberations, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, expects to be in a position shortly to finalise and issue planning authorities with revisions to the 2005 rural housing guidelines that take account of the judgment in the Flemish decree case.

From my perspective, I will certainly talk to the Minister. It is not unreasonable for someone who grew up in a rural area and has lived there all for all of his or her life to expect to be able to continue living in that community. Obviously, that depends on other important factors like the design of the house, the availability of wastewater treatment, access and the extent to which development has already taken place in the area. I am aware of some of the inconsistencies about which the Senator has spoken. To answer his question directly, the ultimate objective is that the revised guidelines will be circulated to each local authority as soon as they are finalised to ensure there is a uniform approach to the national planning framework when it comes to individual decisions at local authority level. In my distinct role in charge of local government, I must emphasise that each local authority is an independent republic. It is a bit of an oxymoron to be the Minister of State with responsibility for local government, given that local authorities - quite rightly - jealously guard their own independence, such as they have it. It is not unreasonable to think the new guidelines should be completed as soon as possible and circulated to ensure there is a uniform approach across the country.

I ask Senator Lawlor to be brief because the Minister of State has given him a very long response.

I know, but he has not provided much clarity. In the case of virtually every application for planning permission for a one-off house that has been refused in County Kildare since 1 November last, objective 19 of the national planning framework has been quoted as part of the refusal. There is no clarity on objective 19 which refers to "economic or social need". It has been interpreted as meaning "social and economic need". The Minister of State added another consideration to the list when he referred to "social, economic or occupational terms". This will confuse things further. We want clarity in order that people can go by their local county development plans. Something from higher up should not be dictating what should and should not happen. It is unfortunate that planners, particularly in County Kildare, are taking objective 19 of the national planning framework on board as a greater priority than their own local county development plan which was put in place by councillors at local level.

The councillors' role is to devise the development plan for their area. If there is an issue with the development plan in County Kildare, it is open to the councillors in the county to amend it. I understand what the Senator is saying about objective 19. By the way, I do not see how the use of the word "occupational" complicates things. It is quite clear that in the case of someone like a farmer who has an obvious reason to be building in the countryside, that is surely a clarification of things, if anything.

It is not mentioned in objective 19.

It is open to the councillors in County Kildare to have their planning meeting in the morning. In the meantime, the Minister will issue the planning guidelines when he has finalised them.

Constitutional Convention Recommendations

It is six years since the Constitutional Convention recommended that the State consider reducing the voting age to 16 years. The previous Government accepted this recommendation and in July 2013 Deputy Enda Kenny announced plans to hold this referendum. By January 2015 those plans had been abandoned by that Government. In September 2017 the current Government revived this commitment when it announced an indicative timetable for referenda to be held, which included a referendum to lower the voting age to 16 years, to be held in May or June 2019. As of last month, the Government appeared to have abandoned the plans to facilitate this referendum by stating it was not within its plans to hold the referendum in 2019. One has to presume that unless Fine Gael's coalition with Fianna Fáil is formalised, the confidence and supply agreement will end soon after 2019 and that, therefore, we will not see this referendum being held in the Government's term.

If I am honest, I have become cynical about Fine Gael's willingness to re-examine the voting age. We brought forward legislation in this House that would have lowered the voting age in local and European elections and the Government froze it on Second Stage for six months, stating more time was needed to examine the proposal. We sought to engage with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil constructively, but we were stonewalled in those efforts. When the legislation returned nine months later, Fine Gael chose to oppose it section by section, stating a referendum on the matter would be held and that it would, therefore, be premature to extend voting rights in certain elections when we did not have the consent of the people to extend voting rights in all elections. I do not know why it took nine months for the penny to drop. We are now in a situation where Government has not only failed to facilitate this referendum but has also opposed others in their efforts to reduce the voting age through legislative change. It is time to allow young people to have their say in matters that affect their lives. We will all reap the reward and all profit from their inclusion.

We are looking for clarity on whether a referendum can be held within the lifetime of the Government. Has that potential been explored? Has the Government considered holding the referendum on the same day as a general election? If the Minister of State cannot give any further indication as to when the referendum will be scheduled, will he concede that the Government has failed on its commitment to young people and will he give reasons a referendum that has been sitting on the agenda for six years has failed to come to fruition?

I thank the Senator. This is at least the second time we have had this discussion in the Commencement debate. I acknowledge that the Senator and other Members are strong advocates for a reduction in the voting age to 16 years, which was recommended in the report of the Constitutional Convention in 2013, as the Senator pointed out.

The convention examined this issue extensively and during its deliberations, three ballots took place to inform its proposals in the matter. In the first ballot there was a small majority, 52%, in favour of the proposal that the voting age be reduced. In the second ballot the members were asked to consider whether to reduce the voting age to either 17 years or to 16 years and the stronger support was for the latter reduction. A total of 48% supported a reduction to 16 years, while 39% were in favour of a reduction to 17, with 14% expressing no opinion. A third ballot was also held on whether the voting age should be reduced for some types of election only, for example, local elections. The overwhelming view of the convention did not support a reduction in the voting age for specific types of election only, which is why the Government opposed the Bill to which the Senator referred. Some 68% of the members of the Constitutional Convention, by far the widest margin in a vote on any of these matters, said there should be no difference between voting ages.

I do not think it was too controversial a position for the Government to have adopted when that Bill was being considered.

In line with the majority opinion of its members, the first report of the Convention on the Constitution contained a recommendation to the effect that a referendum be held in order to amend the Constitution to reduce the voting age to 16 years for all elections. Against this background, on 26 September 2017 the Government announced an indicative timetable for the holding of a number of referendums that came from the work of both the Citizens' Assembly and the convention. Included in that indicative timetable was the referendum on reducing the voting age to 16 years, which, subject to the timely passage of a Constitution Amendment Bill by each House of the Oireachtas, was to be held on the date of the local and European elections scheduled to take place in late May 2019. The forthcoming European Parliament elections must be held in all member states between 23 and 26 May next. Two further referendums were also to be held on the same date as the local and European elections.

The Department is responsible for the development of the necessary constitutional (amendment) Bill in respect of reducing the voting age to 16 years. On a related matter, it will also be responsible for bringing forward appropriate amending legislation to extend the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens' resident outside the State. These referendums, when held, will address two of the recommendations of the Convention on the Constitution. If passed, these amendments to the Constitution would give rise to the need for supplementary amendments to the Electoral Acts in order to address the practical considerations that would arise. However, at its meeting on 4 December 2018, the Government reviewed further the progress on the overall programme of Bills to amend the Constitution. Having regard to other referendums proposed to be progressed in the short term and having particular regard to the heavy legislative programme scheduled for the first half of this year arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the Government agreed that only two referendums would be held in tandem with the local and European elections and that further consideration would have to be given to the timing of a referendum on reducing the voting age to 16 years. While the Government remains committed to the holding of a referendum to reduce the voting age to 16 years, it is not proposed that said referendum will be held this year.

I am sorry the Senator feels cynical about the Government's position but, as matters stand, people will be obliged to complete two ballot papers for the local and European elections. With two referendums, there would be two further papers. There will be several plebiscites at which people will be obliged to complete five ballot papers. I may be wrong but I do not think that we have ever had an election day when there have been five ballot papers. The idea that there would be a sixth was actively considered by me and the franchise section and we formed the view that it would be too much. We also had to be cognisant of the fact that in terms of the preparation of the Bills necessary to hold referendums, there is only certain scope in the Department to continue with them. Preference was given to the question of those outside the State and whether they would have the right to vote in presidential elections.

Deputy Adams tabled a Bill in the Dáil which combined voting for citizens overseas and reducing the voting age in presidential elections. I had a meeting with him in the middle of last year when we discussed several of the issues involved. He was to revert to me and the Department but never did so. That is not a sufficient excuse but I would have expected a response within the past eight months to some of the queries the officials and I raised at our meeting, particularly if he was interested in ensuring those referendums would be held. The Government's position is that it wants the referendum to be held but we cannot have a polling day on which people would be given more than five ballot papers. That is why the decision was made at the end of last year that only two referendums would be held in conjunction with the two elections and the plebiscite.

I keep Deputy Adams up to date on all of our work in the Seanad. The Minister of State has noted that many others in this House and I are strong advocates for a reduction in the voting age to 16 years. Referendums proposed more recently than those recommended by the Convention on the Constitution have somehow leapfrogged this referendum. This shows that we do not have a voice at the Cabinet or someone at the table who cares about the issue.

The Minister of State should lead with legislative change to give this referendum the best chance of passing when we eventually get there.

Garda Stations

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.

I appreciate the Minister of State coming to the House to take this matter.

The area of Clongriffin and Belmayne is growing in size, as is the population. Renewed plans are frequently put in place for the expansion of that entire community and a population of 50,000 is projected in the coming years. We are effectively talking about a population on the scale of a large town, if not a small city. A number of years ago I had a debate in this Chamber with the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, about the need for a new secondary school in that area. At the time I was told by the Minister that it was not necessary and that the population did not warrant it. Within 18 months the Department had changed its mind, having looked at the population trends and the projected population, and granted the establishment of a new second level school in the area. Thankfully, Educate Together is to be awarded patronage and the school is to open in September.

I make that point purely because we believe a Garda station would benefit policing, security and bring about a sense of community in that community. There is what we might call a Garda clinic which takes place in one of the rooms of the Junction Community Centre in Clongriffin. On a Saturday, gardaí sign forms, do basic Garda work and are available to assist the community. An Garda Síochána is doing the best it can with the resources it has to serve the community in whatever way it can. Clearly a Garda presence of that nature is seen to be needed in that area.

This area is growing in size. In the past politicians have been criticised for not engaging in forward planning. We build residential units but we do not build a community around those residential units to serve them. I am saying at this early stage that there is a need for a Garda station, just as I said two years ago that there was a need for a new second level school. The campaigners and I were proved to be correct and we managed to be successful in that endeavour. I know that Government policy has changed in the past few years, moving away from stationary Garda stations and emphasising the transportation of gardaí in vehicles, on bikes and in cars. I appreciate that move. However, given the scale of this community, the size of the population and the number expected to move into that area, at the very least, a positive response from the Minister of State's Department on looking at establishing a Garda station in the area, one that can work with the new communities, give advice to planners on how best to construct new residential entities and with transport links, etc., would be of huge benefit to what I am sure he will accept is a large town, if not effectively a small city, being built on the outskirts of Dublin.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is in the Dáil and sends his apologies. The Minister and I would like to thank the Senator for raising this matter.

The Senator will be aware that the resources provided by the Government for An Garda Síochána have reached unprecedented levels, with an allocation of €1.76 billion for 2019. This represents an increase of more than 6% on the initial allocation for 2018. Very significant capital investment is also being made in An Garda Síochána, including investment of more than €242 million in Garda ICT infrastructure between 2016 and 2021, to enable investment of €46 million in the Garda fleet over the same period, as well as considerable capital investment in addressing the deficiencies in the Garda estate.

This investment is in support of the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance for citizens and deter crime. However, the Senator will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is primarily responsible for the effective and efficient use of the resources available to An Garda Síochána, including responsibility for the formulation of proposals regarding the opening and closing of Garda stations, taking into account crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure the best possible use is made of these resources. Furthermore, the programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is progressed by the Garda authorities working in close co-operation with the Office of Public Works which has responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation.

The Minister has no direct role in these matters. He and I are aware that the Senator and some local representatives have suggested a new Garda station at Clongriffin-Belmayne is required owing to population growth and development in the area. Bearing in mind that it is a matter for the Commissioner to efficiently manage Garda resources, on behalf of the Minister, I can confirm that the Clongriffin-Belmayne area, as referred to by the Senator, is located within the Coolock Garda district. I also confirm, on behalf of the Minister, that the Garda authorities indicate that the area receives ongoing attention from gardaí assigned to Coolock district. We further understand local Garda management in the Dublin metropolitan region north division is aware of issues relating to anti-social behaviour in the locality and, in addition to routine patrols by mobile patrol units, Garda foot patrols and members of community policing units have deployed additional personnel, particularly to specific areas identified as public disorder and anti-social behaviour hotspots, to address this type of criminality. In addition, the Garda authorities indicate that the community policing unit at Coolock Garda station has ongoing engagement with various residential, commercial and business groups within the community, providing personal security and crime prevention advice at regular meetings throughout the district.

We understand Garda management locally has put in place specific initiatives targeting anti-social activities of young drivers, including intelligence-led initiatives, and that An Garda Síochána works closely with the local authorities to reduce such incidents and opportunities for joyriding, anti-social behaviour and public disorder. Garda checkpoints to prevent and detect criminality across the districts have resulted in the detection of road traffic offences, the recovery and seizure of firearms, the disruption of the sale and supply of drugs and the execution of warrants.

We are informed that monitoring of crime trends and initiating frequent, short-term and varied crime prevention and detection initiatives continue to be strategies employed by local Garda management to target criminal behaviour and spikes in specific types of criminality, including driving-related offences and other forms of anti-social behaviour.

As I stated, it is a matter for the Commissioner to manage and direct Garda resources. This includes responsibility for the formulation of proposals for the opening and closing of Garda stations. In that regard, the Senator may recall that A programme for a Partnership Government included a commitment for a review of Garda districts and dispersement of resources. The resulting report of the Garda Inspectorate entitled, Policing with Local Communities, which was submitted to the Minister by the Policing Authority and published in December 2018, also finds that the responsibility for decisions on boundaries and dispersement of Garda resources, including the number, type and location of Garda stations, should rest with the Garda Commissioner, as is currently the case. I understand the Garda authorities do not propose a new station in the area referred to by the Senator.

I ask the Senator to be brief.

I appreciate the Minister of State's response but I do not accept it. It is nonsense to suggest to this House or me that it is the role of the Garda Commissioner to make these decisions when we all know that a member of the Cabinet is well able to trumpet that he apparently was successful in reopening Stepaside Garda station. He is also willing to tell all his constituents as often as he possibly can that it was his intervention that made that happen. For the Minister of State to suggest there was no political interference or influence on that decision is a statement of an untruth. I know that it certainly went against the advice of the assistant Garda Commissioner. As was stated in the Houses of the Oireachtas, he was not in favour of it and did not believe it was a proper use of Garda resources. It is not good enough for the Minister of State to tell me that this issue has nothing to do with the Government when it has.

I have advised the Minister of State that the Government stated two years ago that there was not a need for a secondary school in the Clongriffin-Belmayne area and now it has stated a school is needed. A Garda station is also needed in the locality because of the projected population. I am sure that in years to come somebody in the Minister of State's position will inform the House that the Government has changed its mind in that regard. I ask the Minister of State to stop telling us that this is not a political decision when clearly it is. Will he review the priorities of the Department to take account of this new population centre and give it the service it clearly needs?

I am not sure if the Minister of State has anything to add.

I will make a brief comment. I again thank the Senator for raising this matter. It is an important one, of that there is no doubt.

I again thank the Senator for raising this matter. On behalf of the Minister, I reiterate that while we understand the Garda authorities do not propose a new station for the area to which the Senator refers, they have informed the Department of Justice and Equality that they are aware of the issues arising in the locality and that local management has put in place specific initiatives to address them. I also understand An Garda Síochána works closely with the local authorities and local stakeholders, as appropriate.