Belfast Telegraph

Garda station reopened in minister's constituency 'purely for policing reasons'

The Acting Garda Commissioner has said the controversial reopening of a station in a Government minister's constituency was based purely on policing.

The decision on Stepaside in south Dublin was heralded by Independent TD for the area and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross back in June when he hung out a big banner to mark the news.

The Department of Justice had been advised to reinvest in the city suburb in an interim report on the reopening of six stations by Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll.

Donall O Cualain, the acting Garda chief, revealed that Rush station in north Dublin was also recommended for reopening in the same review, along with two other stations outside the capital.

Two other locations were identified for new stations to be built.

The report has not been published and no decisions were announced about the four other locations when Stepaside was confirmed on June 13 at Enda Kenny's last cabinet meeting as Taoiseach.

Acting Commissioner Mr O Cualain apologised to the Public Accounts Committee, which is examining value for money behind the plan, after offering in July to hand over the report only to realise it is being held by the Department of Justice.

He told the committee that he stands by the Stepaside recommendation, and insisted it was about policing.

"I'm not aware that anybody brought any pressure to bear," he told the committee.

Mr O Cualain added: "The only criteria that I can consider as Commissioner are based on policing needs and requirements for the communities."

The final report on the reopening of six Garda stations by Mr O'Driscoll is expected to be given to Government in the coming weeks.

Mr O Cualain told the committee that the power to make decisions on reopening stations rests with his office but later he added: "What Government do is the Government's business."

Sinn Fein's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald hit out at the decision to move immediately to reopen Stepaside while shelving Rush.

"I think it's a disgrace that political cherry picking of Garda decisions happens," she said.

Some 139 Garda stations were closed from 2012 as part of massive austerity measures introduced in the wake of the country's economic collapse.

There are now more than 500 stations.

Out of those that were shut down 60 have been sold by the Office of Public Works, the PAC was told, including 16 in Leinster and nine in Connacht.

Mr O'Driscoll's review looked at 70 stations around the country, including four stations which had been closed in the Dublin region.

Stepaside is in the Dublin Rathdown constituency of Mr Ross, who campaigned for its reinstatement at the last election and when a minister.

Mr Ross his rejected claims that the reopening decision was anything to do with his support for judicial appointments and said the reason was because of a rise in crime in the area.

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