The Acting Garda Commissioner says government set the criteria for which station should be reopened
Sinn Féin has warned that the process for selecting which garda stations should be reopened has been "politically driven from the start."
Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin told the Public Accounts Committee this morning that the government set the criteria for which stations should be re-opened.
Work has already begun on re-opening Stepaside Garda Station - located in the Transport Minister's constituency - leading Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald to warn that politics was "outranking policing" in the selection process.
“Just last week, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, in reply to a parliamentary question, stated that he has no role in the reopening of Garda stations or responsibility for the formulation of proposals in relation to the opening and closing of Garda stations," she said.
“Yet today, the acting Garda Commissioner informed the Public Accounts Committee that it is the Government who not only set the criteria for the reopening of Garda stations but that the Government also chose to reopen Stepaside.
"This is a gross intrusion by Government into Garda operational matters and completely at odds with the Justice Minister’s statement that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the resources available to An Garda Síochána."
Acting Commissioner Ó Cualáin told the Public Accounts Committee that he made a mistake when he promised to provide the committee with the report.
"I indicated that the report could be provided, I made that commitment in good faith at the time,” he said.
"However, as the interim report is prepared for the Minister for Justice and Equality, it's a matter for the department to approve the release of the document.
"It was an error on my part, I apologise for that."
He confirmed that the interim report provided to the department recommended that four stations should be re-opened.
However, the government has only acted to open the Stepaside station – leading to concerns the process has become “completely politicised.”
Stepaside is in the Transport Minister Shane Ross’ constituency – and he has long campaigned for it to be reopened.
The three other stations recommended in the report were Leighlinbridge in County Carlow; Donard in County Wicklow and Rush in County Dublin.
The interim report also called for new stations at Dublin Port and Dublin Airport.
Under questioning from Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald this morning Acting Commissioner Ó Cualáin said the stations were picked by garda management - but the Department of Justice set the criteria.
He said he “absolutely” stands over the decision to reopen Stepaside – although he pointed out that the decision was made by his predecessor, former Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
A total of 139 garda stations have been closed since 2011.
60 of those were sold – with the rest retained by the Office of Public Works (OPW).
A final report recommending six stations around the country for re-opening is to be made available to government in the coming weeks.