An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: There is no doubt that the closure of almost 100 Garda stations today represents a serious blow to rural Ireland in particular but also to some urban communities. These are the very communities which have already suffered under the cuts regime of this and the previous Government. We have seen in recent weeks and months a spate of burglaries targeting vulnerable and elderly people. For many communities, the local Garda station provides peace of mind and allows people to sleep soundly in their beds. The Government has decided, however, to continue with the implementation of Fianna Fáil's so-called national recovery plan from 2010 by making further Garda cuts.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: I suppose we will have to apologise for it in 17 years time.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: This is the infamous four-year plan which Fianna Fáil negotiated with the troika. At the time Fianna Fáil agreed with the troika to cut Garda numbers from 14,500 to 13,500 in 2011 and to 13,000 by 2014, a total drop of 10%.

Deputy Niall Collins: Sinn Féin has its own way of reducing the number of gardaí. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Of course, now Fianna Fáil grandstands on the issue when the Government is simply implementing its predecessor's policy. They have form in this regard, Minister----Deputy Simon Harris: We will leave now and Opposition Members can debate among themselves.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputies on all sides of the House should allow Deputy Mary Lou McDonald to continue.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: At the 2010 Garda Representative Association conference, its president, Mr. Michael O'Boyce, criticised the reduction in Garda numbers and the Fianna Fáil justice spokesman, Deputy Niall Collins, called for him to be removed from the force by the then Commissioner. Deputy Niall Collins: How would you have removed him? Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Deputy Niall Collins now comes to the Dáil to oppose the very cuts Fianna Fáil designed. Deputy Willie O'Dea: You removed Jerry McCabe. An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Order please. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald is over time and should conclude.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Does the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, accept that the closure of Garda stations is a blow to the communities I have described? What assurances can she offer today to these communities as to their safety? What measures are in place not just to reassure people in rural Ireland and certain urban communities but to ensure they have a full and adequate Garda service? Deputy David Stanton: We will make sure the stations are not blown up.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call on the Minister. She has three minutes.

Deputy Joan Burton: Deputy Mary Lou McDonald is correct to state that under Fianna Fáil's proposal Garda numbers would have dropped to 13,000 by 2014 on foot of the deal on a cut of 10% which that party signed off with the troika. Deputy Willie O'Dea: We were not going to cut child benefit. An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputies must settle down. Deputy Joan Burton: She was also correct to state that when the Garda Representative Association's spokesman spoke out against the cuts, the response of Deputy Niall Collins, who is now Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman, was to seek to have him silenced. Deputy Niall Collins called for the outgoing president of the Garda Representative Association, Mr. Michael O'Boyce, to be removed from the force by the then Garda Commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, for a speech which was not even delivered but in which it had been proposed to criticise the Fianna Fáil Government and its programme of cuts. Deputy Niall Collins: It was not for that comment. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: You are in government now. Deputy Willie O'Dea: Who is in government now? Deputy Joan Burton: At the end of this process, we will have more than 560 Garda stations which is significantly more per capita than in Scotland or Wales. If we look north of the Border, 40% of police stations are to shut. Deputy Mattie McGrath: They were garrisons. Deputy Joan Burton: We are talking about a relatively small but important number of stations which will be open for limited service of two to three hours in rural communities. Sinn Féin agrees with closing stations in the North. Deputy David Stanton: The ones they did not blow up.

Deputy Joan Burton: Sinn Féin Assembly and Northern Ireland Policing Board member, Pat Sheehan, said those stations represented "a drain on resources". At the time of the announcement, Alex Maskey, also a policing board member, said many of the stations on the list were an unwanted legacy of the past and had become blots on the landscape. Deputy Mattie McGrath: That is true. We are 90 years on down here. Deputy Joan Burton: We might well look for consistency and coherence on policy. We can agree North and South on the need for more effective and better quality policing which takes into account the change in crime patterns caused, in part, by easier access to the countryside. People want to see - and the Garda Commissioner has committed to - an end to circumstances in which gardaí are forced to spend excessive time in offices but, instead, their deployment for operational policing on the front line. An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Thank you, Minister. Deputy Joan Burton: It is what we all want to see. This means targeting resources as effectively as possible to ensure there is better policing to protect communities and, in particular, older people living in isolated areas. It is very possible to achieve that with the development of modern policing methods. In my own constituency, which includes many semi-rural areas, Operation Fiacla has made a significant impact in terms of gangs arriving in vans and cars from other parts of the region to attempt to rob people's homes. Deputy Mattie McGrath: What is a semi-rural constituency? An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Mary Lou McDonald has one minute for her supplementary question.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: We can all agree on the need for more effective policing. I do not differ with the Minister on that. Her commentary on the North would require too long an explanation. Deputy Simon Harris: Can we give Deputy Mary Lou McDonald extra time? Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: For those who care to listen and who are clearly ignorant on the matter, the experience of policing in the North and in the South has been entirely different. An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Can we have order for the speaker? Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The difficulty is that very many people who rely on Operation Fiacla believe it is gan fiacla because the gardaí are not sufficiently resourced. The Minister knows this because she represents an urban constituency not a million miles away from my own. She knows that the most common and sometimes the only complaint citizens have regarding the gardaí is the lengthy response time. They call the Garda but they are not in a position to respond promptly. It is the biggest frustration one comes across. That is in an urban setting. Let us transport ourselves to rural Ireland where we know there has been a spate of very high-profile and vicious attacks, particularly on elderly people. People living in remote areas are quite correctly ill at ease because they do not believe the service they require will get to them quickly enough to keep them safe. Will the Minister at least acknowledge that the closure of almost 100 stations is a matter of grave public concern. Could she go beyond the generalised rhetoric she has offered and be far more specific about what the compensatory measures for those communities will be. Will there be additional gardaí? I support civilianisation as I believe it is the right thing to do. Will that be accelerated? How many gardaí will be freed up? Will the people in rural Ireland who are losing their stations at least know that there will be a Garda on the beat?

Deputy Joan Burton: The Commissioner has addressed those issues. I will return to the issue of the North because comparative policing and its success in different countries and regions both in the EU and in different parts of this island is an important factor in this debate. What is important in modern policing is that gardaí are involved in front-line duties. The PSNI inherited 140 stations but by 2015, just 49 stations will remain. This is in the context of Deputy McDonald's party being in government in the North. The Deputy should ask herself why her colleagues in the North agree to have a 40% reduction in the number of police stations. I assume they did so in order to allow for more effective use of policing resources by putting PSNI members out on the front line. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: It is an entirely new service post-Patten. Could the Minister answer my question? An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister without interruption. Deputy Joan Burton: Studies on crime levels in different areas are very important. All the wisdom relating to modern policing both in the US and Europe is that it is critical to get police officers out on the front line and Operation Fiacla is a very good example of that. Where it has been operating around the country, it is taking into account changes in crime patterns brought about by additional mobility due in many cases to the upgrade in the roads network. That is something with which we must deal. The Garda Commissioner and management are working on a programme and plan to make for more efficient policing for the 21st century. That seems to be what Sinn Féin is supporting the PSNI to do in the North but it always seems to have a two-faced response in respect of this - one that looks North and the other that looks South. I am asking Deputy McDonald to compare and contrast what happens in both areas.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Order please. And then we went to Richard Boyd Barrett.

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