AS the garda force continues to be mired in controversy, gardaí on the ground are adamant that the job goes on.
And among them is Assistant Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon, who has responsibility for policing in the southern region, incorporating Cork, Kerry and Limerick.
She believes the recent controversy surrounding breath tests and fixed charge penalty notices for some traffic offences are something which the gardaí can learn from.
But she also believes it cannot take away from the importance of getting the message out to people about the importance of road safety steps by everyone.
She said that road safety is a key area for gardaí in the southern region this year.
And she stressed that everyone has a role to play to improve Ireland’s road safety record.
She outlined that gardaí have a number of areas they want to enforce this year, including increasing the level of compliance with speeding limits, the use of handheld mobile phones, and the wearing of seatbelts.
She added: “There are some hard hitting ads on the television at the moment and they are the reality of it. It only takes a split second. We certainly will be trying to drive that message home and make Cork city and county a safer place for everybody in terms of road safety.” She was commenting in the wake of the revelation by gardaí that the number of breath tests conducted from 2011 to 2016 had been inflated by almost one million, and that 14,700 drivers had received a conviction in court instead of being given a fixed charge penalty notice for a fine.
While acknowledging that there were lessons to be learned from the development, she said there a lesson to be learned from it in improving garda processes.
And she said the public can help in tackling infringements by other motorists.
She explained: “We very frequently get calls from the public about someone who might be seen taking the two sides of the road or whatever else, so we do welcome calls from the public. We have lots of patrols out between the traffic corps and regular units so if we get a call like that, we will certainly respond to it.” She added: “Everyone of us in our own household environment has a role to play in compliance with the speed limits, wearing the seat belts, not using the mobile phone, making sure that those around us are influenced to do the same thing – especially young people.”
Asst Comm McMahon stressed that the use of handheld mobile phones is “an absolute no no”. She explained: “We have all been in our private cars and glanced to the side and seen someone texting. But you can’t be looking at your phone and looking at the road at the same time. You are risking your own safety but you are also putting others at risk. It is irresponsible behaviour.” Another key priority for gardaí in the southern region this year is crime, particularly burglaries.
Asst Comm McMahon said that the impact of a burglary on a homeowner can be huge, whether or not they are at home when the incident occurs. She said that checkpoints and operations targeting known burglary gangs are being tackled through resources from the national operation called Thor, set up to tackle organised crime, Asst Comm McMahon said there are travelling criminals who have been active in recent weeks in Kerry and Cork, and highlighted that travelling criminals can be difficult to apprehend. And she said: “Just because you catch one group, you cannot take the foot off the pedal. You have to be constantly watching and scanning the environment for someone else coming in.” She said the analysts service for the southern region, based in Anglesea Street, provide fantastic data to gardaí on trends and modus operandi being used by criminals, to help build up a picture of those operating in the southern region.
She added: “We build our operations around that data.” Asst Comm McMahon said, however, that the public has a huge role to play too in helping gardaí prevent crimes.
She continued: “The text alert scheme is something which is really, really positive and we get lots of calls in about suspicious activity. We really depend on them and appreciate the public taking the time and the effort to make that call.” She urged people who take the trouble to write down the registration details of a suspicious vehicle to pick up the phone to contact gardaí because “you never know where it will help”.
She said any small bit of information can have a role to play in slotting into an overall bigger picture, to help gardaí solve a crime.
But she said there are opportune criminals who take an opportunity as it arises and she urged people to always be thinking of steps such as keeping windows and doors locked to prevent opportunists.
Referring to the unsolved December 7 murder of Aidan O’Driscoll in Blackpool, she said that any small piece of information which just one or two people might have could “make all the difference” to the investigation.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of incidents in Ireland and the UK where incidents were uploaded to social media while investigations were underway. Asst Comm McMahon urged people to remember to be cautious about taking such a step because it can sometimes result in cutting across an investigation.
One such incident included an assault on a Cork woman in Kerry, which was uploaded to social networking sites.
While she would not comment on that case, Asst Comm McMahon said: “There are no secrets anymore, everything is out there, and people are prepared to put it out there. We encourage people to come to us as the police force so we can investigate and pursue things. Sometimes, if things go up on social media, they take over a life of their own and that makes it difficult from an investigative perspective. It does complicate the situation.” And she urged: “In terms of social media, think of the consequence. Once it is out there, it is out there.”