I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter for discussion and I am pleased that the Minister for Justice and Equality is here to respond. I declare my interest in this subject as Bawnboy is my home village. I do not live there any more but that was where I was born and reared and I still have strong family connections there. In 2013 Bawnboy Garda station was one of a number of small rural stations closed in Cavan-Monaghan and throughout the country. Over the years, the members of An Garda Síochána assigned to the Bawnboy station gave a great policing service to the local community. There was, and still is, a great community spirit in that area and the work of the Garda was always very strongly supported by the local community.
As the Minister is aware, that area is part of the Border region. If one goes west of Belturbet and Ballyconnell to Bawnboy, Corlough, Swanlinbar, Glangevlin, Dowra and Blacklion, it is a large rural area all along the Border. As we know and as we discussed in this House previously, there are particular policing demands on An Garda Síochána in the Border area. I was pleased that the Minister some time ago announced that six Garda stations would reopen as a result of the commitment given in the programme for Government. Bawnboy Garda station is in good order and is a relatively new building and I am anxious that it should be reopened and Garda personnel assigned to it at an early date.
One of the most striking comments I heard came from the last Garda who served in Bawnboy station, Garda Imelda Gallagher. She stated at her retirement function that she regretted the closure of small rural Garda stations. One sentence she uttered that night has stuck with me. She said that she got to know the local people and the people got to know the local garda on the ground. No means of communications can ever equal that knowledge between An Garda Síochána and the members of the public. I implore the Minister to ask the Garda authorities to have this station reopened as soon as possible.
He is well aware, and we discussed this previously in this House, of the anxieties and concerns in Border communities in respect of crime levels. We know that not all of the criminality emanates from outside of our jurisdiction and plenty of it is from people residing here. The added dimension to criminality in the Border area, however, is that some of the culprits, criminals and thugs can get away very quickly out of our jurisdiction when they commit a crime along that corridor, as they can elsewhere along the Border as well. I emphasise again the particular additional policing demands on the Garda in the Border region. We need the station reopened in Bawnboy and we need gardaí assigned to it as soon as possible. I hope the Minster will convey to the Garda Commissioner and the senior management of An Garda Síochána the need for this station to be reopened quickly. From a layperson’s point of view, the Garda station is modern, in good condition and it would cost very little to have it reopened.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. He has raised it with me on a number of occasions. The Deputy will appreciate that the programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is progressed by the Garda authorities working in close cooperation with the Office of Public Works, OPW. The OPW has the responsibility for the provision and maintenance of Garda accommodation. This includes identifying and progressing any necessary remedial or refurbishment works required at individual stations. As Minister, I do not have a direct role in these matters. The Programme for a Partnership Government, however, commits to a pilot scheme to reopen six Garda stations, both urban and rural, to determine possible positive impacts that such openings will have on criminal activity, with special emphasis on burglaries, theft and public order.
The Garda Commissioner’s final report, which is available on the Department of Justice and Equality’s website, recommends that Bawnboy Garda station be reopened, along with stations in Ballinspittle, County Cork, Donard, County Wicklow, Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, Rush in north County Dublin and Stepaside in south County Dublin. I am informed by the Garda authorities that a brief of requirements was provided to the OPW in respect of the reopening of these stations, including Bawnboy Garda station.
The Garda authorities requested the OPW to undertake technical surveys to determine the works required to enable the stations to reopen and the estimated costings involved. I am further informed that this key stage is complete. The OPW has conducted the necessary technical surveys of all stations involved and has written to the Commissioner advising him of the works involved accordingly. I understand that based on those reports, An Garda Síochána and the OPW continue to liaise closely to progress the pilot reopening.
I understand that at this stage it is not possible to provide a detailed timeframe for reopening of the station concerned, which is dependent on a number of factors, including, for example, the extent of the required refurbishment, based on current building regulations. There are also agreed standards and specifications for Garda cell areas and custody suites which would have to be incorporated into the refurbishment. The works required vary across the stations, including at Bawnboy. After the specification has been agreed, the works will commence once the appropriate procurement process has been finalised. I assure the Deputy that the OPW and An Garda Síochána continue to work closely to progress the pilot project. My officials are engaging with them on an ongoing basis, and I am keen that this issue is resolved at the earliest opportunity, having regard to the strong representations made to me by the Deputy.
I thank the Minister for his reply, and I want to put on record my appreciation of the fact that he facilitated me with a meeting to discuss this matter some time ago. It would be a great message for rural communities if a Garda station was to open up again in a small village. There has been a serious increase in crime levels and criminality in rural areas, including that part of west Cavan and, therefore, a message from the Minister that a Garda station will open shortly would be positive and would be well received.
I did not think, after 1998, that I would be talking about Border crossings in this House again, but unfortunately it is very much a part of the political narrative again, with Brexit on the way. In the west Cavan area there are a huge number of Border crossings. We know the implications of Brexit and the difficulties that may arise for communities on both sides of the Border. Gardaí with local knowledge will be important to ensure that the best service continues to be provided to the public. I again ask the Minister to ask that the Garda authorities to speed up the reopening of this station. I appreciate his assistance to date in this matter.
The Deputy is correct about policing the Border area. I look forward to ensuring that progress on the Garda workforce is reported on a regular basis. The stated aim of the Government is to ensure that we have 21,000 Garda personnel by 2021, and we are moving progressively towards that objective. In terms of numbers in the Border area, Bawnboy Garda station will be reopened on a pilot basis. The timeframe for the reopening of Bawnboy, as with the other five stations, is dependent on a number of factors, but I am keen to ensure these factors are dealt with efficiently and speedily. I confirm to the Deputy that there has been considerable progress in the assessment and agreement on the building works required in respect of Bawnboy. I am not at this stage able to provide a definitive timeframe, but I am happy to keep him informed over the summer months while the House is not sitting. I can confirm that the detailed work on this issue is very much ongoing. The OPW has completed the technical surveys based on the briefing requirements of An Garda Síochána, which is an important step. It has written to the Garda Commissioner outlining the works involved, and based on those reports, the Garda and the OPW are working steadily to ensure the reopening of the stations can take place as soon as possible.