An artist’s impression of the proposed new garda district HQ at Newcastle West designed by Hugh Kelly architects
A WALK-OUT by gardai working in ‘deplorable’ conditions at Newcastle West Garda Station in Limerick cannot be ruled out, a garda representative has warned.
“The only reason the members are continuing to work there is the goodwill of the members and that goodwill is running out,” Garda Alan O’Donnell of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said this week. “I can envisage a walk-out.”
Meanwhile, Niall Collins TD has described the situation at the station as a “crisis”.
Overcrowding is a fact of life at the station and the portakabins where the lockers and changing facilities are located have been condemned, Gda O’Donnell pointed out.
There is only one bathroom for the 17 female members working in the station.
Even more problematic is the fact that prisoners have to be brought in or out through the public office and this can pose dangers if the prisoner is violent, he explained. Prisoners also have to be processed in the public office and there is a problem with rat infestation.
What is needed, Gda O’Donnell said, is a clear road map as the campaign for improved facilities has been going on since 2009.
“We were promised a complete overhaul in 2012,” he explained but these plans were somehow “lost in translation.”
Following the merger of the Askeaton Garda District with the Newcastle West Garda District in 2013, a report was commissioned which found the station to be “not fit for purpose”.
But the plan to extend and refurbish the building has now been put aside and a plan to build an all-new, two-storey station on the existing site has been drawn up. “The plans are well advanced,” Gda O’Donnell said. “It is coming down to money and who makes the loudest noise.”
“As an association, we have brought this as far as we can. We have been knocking on TDs’ doors. We have met with Garda commissioners. We have met two Ministers of Justice,” he continued.
The hope of “two years down the road” has been held out time and time again. “If we knew there was a clear road map, that the money was there and ring-fenced, there would be a lot more acceptance,” Garda O’Donnell said.
Responding to concerns raised by gardai at the station, Deputy Collins said: “To say this is a major health and safety issue would be a huge understatement.” Last November, the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan visited the station, the second minister to do so in the lifetime of this government, he pointed out.
“This raised the hopes of all involved that a major announcement would very soon follow. However all concerned continue to feel very disappointed, let down and very frustrated,” he said. “I am now calling on the Government to immediately recognise the crisis and fund the development of the proposed new Garda District Headquarters.”
“I am equally as frustrated as the gardai on this,” said Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan who accused “certain politicians” of point-scoring. “This should have been done years ago,” he continued, pointing out that successive governments since the 1990s had failed to act on the matter. However, he pledged: “I am not going to be deflected by point-scoring by certain politicians. They have questions to answer too about what they did, which was little or nothing.”
He had been liaising with garda representatives and with garda chiefs on the issue and has consistently been raising it at ministerial level. Only last week again, Minister O’Donovan said, he met with Minister Flanagan and Minister Boxer Moran, who has responsibility for the OPW.
This Wednesday, a further meeting, this time involving officials from the OPW, the Department of Justice and Garda Accommodation, is scheduled to take place. “This is to chart a way forward,” he said.
The plans for the new building have been drawn up, the Minister pointed out, and he confirmed that the site has been checked and found to be suitable for pile-driving to support a two-storey building.
Minister O’Donovan expects to have greater clarity on the matter within the week. Meanwhile, however, Deputy Collins has indicated he will be raising the issue in the Dáil chamber.