On Fitzgibbon Street, slick black hoardings emblazoned with slogans surround a beautiful 19th-century building – an out-of-use Garda station.
The letters of “Fitzgibbon Street”, “Collaboration” and “Regeneration” are becoming a bit tattered, and parts of them are starting to peel away.
It has been more than three years since then Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised to regenerate the north-east inner-city, and committed to re-opening the Garda station.
In August 2018, Dublin City Council announced that construction works to refurbish the run-down station had begun.
So, 14 months on, some are wondering when the Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station is due to reopen. Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, who represents the area, raised the issue in the Dáil recently.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told her he didn’t know the reason for the delay, but reaffirmed that the government “has committed to reopening” the station.
However, “It is not the opening of Garda stations that reduces crime, rather it is gardaí on the streets,” Varadkar said. “The number on the streets has increased not only in Dublin but also all over the rest of the State. It will continue to increase for as long as this Government is in office and I am the head of it.”
That’s not what some north-inner city local councillors have observed: they say they’ve been seeing fewer gardaí on the beat in the area. Reopening the station without assigning more gardaí to walk the beat around it won’t reduce crime, they say.
And the focus of the proposed regeneration of the north-east inner-city, based on the Mulvey Report, is on reducing crime.
The refurbishment works on the Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station are actually running pretty much on schedule, says Fine Gael’s Councillor Ray McAdam.
“There were major issues – the building wasn’t fit for purpose,” he says.
The Garda station is a protected structure, so the works required planning permission. That was granted in 2018, McAdam says.
“Enabling works” commenced in August 2018, he says. That included dealing with asbestos, cleaning up the exterior of the building, putting in new windows and doing some repointing, he says.
A second contract, which is due to commence shortly, is larger, and includes doing some landscaping outside, and working on the interior, McAdam says.
The Office of Public Works says it has not yet signed a contract for these main refurbishment works, although it plans to do so soon. “The funding for the project has been approved and the pre-contract meeting has been convened,” a spokesperson said.
It’s the interior of the building that’s going to require the most work, says McAdam. “It is a really substantive piece of work and that is why the cost is coming to around €8m.”
The building will get a new lift, as well as new internal walls, doors, floors, ceilings, toilets, and fixed furniture.
Outside, the landscaping will include the provision of a car park, the upgrade of the drainage system, the installation of ramps, and the addition of bin storage.
“There will be no cells,” McAdam says. “The purpose will be community policing and community facilities.”
The major refurbishment works are expected to take 12 months and be completed by the end of 2020, McAdam said. Finishing next year has been the goal for a while.
Back in 2018, the chair of the board charged with implementing the Mulvey Report, Michael Stone, said “[T]his year final approval was given for the refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station, which is expected to reopen in 2020.”
Gardaí on the Beat
Compared with 2011, Gardaí figures suggest there’s been a slight decline in the number of gardaí assigned to the Dublin North Central area.
That area covers the Store Street, Mountjoy Street and Bridewell stations – and the Fitzgibbon Street area.
But a spokesperson in the Department of An Taoiseach says that at the end of 2015 there were just 590 gardaí in Dublin North Central.
So from that level to September’s 692 is “a 17.2% increase in the Division over the past four years”, he says. Garda staff have also increased from 39 to 58, he says.
“Taken together this results in a significant increase in operational policing hours in the Dublin North Central Division,” the spokesperson said.
However you count the gardaí, though, on the ground, there doesn’t seem to be enough of them, some local councillors say.
“The most consistent conversation that I have with people in the central area is about the lack of policing on the streets,” says Gary Gannon, a Social Democrats councillor. “That is not a criticism of the gardaí that are there, they are doing a good job, we just need more of them.”
A couple of years ago the Gardaí were doing great work building up links with locals, but then a lot of those gardaí were transferred out of the area, Gannon says. “That community policing element has been eroded substantially in recent years,” he says.
Nowadays Gardaí are “absolutely stretched to the bone”, he says. When people call the Gardaí it often takes a couple of days for them to come out, and that erodes public confidence and makes people less likely to report crimes, he says.
Residents definitely want to see more gardaí on the beat, and Fitzgibbon Street Garda station reopened, says independent Councillor Christy Burke.
Gardaí do drive around the area, but they should be out walking around and meeting people, he says. “Feet on the beat injects security, especially for our elderly population and it can be a preventative measure,” he says. “It creates a better atmosphere.”
Burke says the only increase in Gardaí in the area that he’s noticed seems to be the armed response unit. “You have the armed response units, that is fine, they are there for a reason, but you do not see police on the beat,” he says.
When the Fitzgibbon Street Station reopens it won’t have any impact on reducing crime in the area if gardaí are just transferred in from nearby the Mountjoy Street station, says Gannon, the Social Democrats councillor.
“It needs to be manned with gardaí, out there walking around,” he says.
So will there be sufficient gardaí to staff the new station when it opens?
A Garda spokesperson said that local Garda management “closely monitors the allocation of all resources in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies”.
“Senior Garda Management is satisfied that an adequate policing service continues to be delivered and that current structures in place meet the requirement to deliver an effective and efficient policing service to the community,” the spokesperson says.
McAdam, the Fine Gael councillor, says he’s confident that there will be sufficient resources in place when the refurbished station opens.
“We have seen the area being prioritised in the last few years and we have been allocated ‘above and beyond’ in resources in the last 18 months,” he says.