How the guards can solve a problem like Cherry Orchard

Retired garda Trevor Laffan reflects on recent events in Dublin where a patrol car was rammed while onlookers cheered
How the guards can solve a problem like Cherry Orchard

Footage circulated online of a Garda car being rammed during an incident in Cherry Orchard, Dublin, last month

I RETIRED from An Garda Siochana in May, 2015, so you would think by now the trials and tribulations of that organisation wouldn’t bother me too much, but they do.

I am currently out of the country, and instead of lying by the pool enjoying the sun, I’m sitting in the apartment bashing the keys on my laptop.

The source of my frustration comes from the footage I viewed on social media of an incident in Cherry Orchard in Dublin, where a garda patrol car was rammed by a stolen car while a crowd of onlookers clapped and cheered.

Other cars could be seen driving recklessly performing stunts, to the amusement of a group of young people standing on the side-line.

Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt this time.

The incident itself wasn’t new to me. I saw plenty of it in the 1980s and early ’90s in Dublin and Cork. Stolen cars entertained gangs of onlookers on a regular basis back then too, and I witnessed one incident where a stolen car crashed head on into a patrol car, injuring both gardaí. So- called ‘joyriding’ was a regular activity in those days.

What really annoyed me was the official response from our authorities to that Cherry Orchard event. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris described the incident as “disgraceful” and “very concerning” and warned others not to engage in copycat activities. He said a full investigation was underway and the public order unit had been stood up.

It’s fairly obvious that the incident was “disturbing” and “very concerning”, and sending in the public order unit is a reactive response that unfortunately won’t prevent this kind of thing happening again. 

It’s a short-term fix, not a long-term solution, but not everyone has the appetite for long-term strategies.

The Taoiseach Micheal Martin had the answer though. He said: “I think more specifically there’s a multi-layered response that is required to this, in terms of both making sure we put services in and continue to add services and empower the community to deal with this from a bottom-up approach, and from a community-based approach, and support the gardaí in terms of resources.”

He added: “The gardaí will get a handle on this, they will be able to deal with this. We’ve dealt with similar episodes in the past in different locations around the country. 

"There are ways of dealing with this, as I say, in the multi-layered way through community interventions, through supporting various services, but also then making sure the gardaí have the resources, both at the community level and in terms of specialist services to deal with the issues.”

When you dig through all that waffle, what he’s actually saying is that we need to get back to basics. State and voluntary agencies need to work with the various communities to develop relationships and regain the respect and trust of the people on the ground, especially the young people.

That sounds like a plan that could work. In fact, we know for certain it could work because it’s exactly what we did in Cork back in the ’90s and the noughties with great success. At least that was until the then garda commissioners, and the politicians of the day flushed it down the toilet.

Having spent the bones of 20 years in community policing, I have some idea of what’s involved in supporting communities. 

That model we had in place a quarter of a century ago was developed over years of trial and error and was replicated in other areas to great effect.

It was based primarily on mutual respect, but that respect didn’t just appear overnight, it was hard won. Communities had been let down previously and were slow to trust this new concept of community policing, but anti-social behaviour and crime were spiralling out of control, and people were looking for answers.

It took 15 years or so to bring about change. Models of best practice were developed involving the community, the local authority, gardaí, youth workers, community wardens and the department of justice.

That resulted in youth projects for the marginalised, diversion projects for those on the verge of criminality along with other initiatives. And they worked.

The tide eventually turned thanks to the hard work and commitment of many dedicated people who had a genuine belief in what they were doing, and that’s why I’m so annoyed today. All that hard work was for nothing.

When the economic crash happened, the model as we knew it was discarded and since then there has been a steady decline in community engagement.

We’re seeing the consequences of that short-sightedness now. The clock has been wound back 20 years and I fear there is a new wave of unrest ahead and no amount of waffle will prevent it.

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, said the ramming of the garda car was “absolutely unacceptable”. She wants a co-ordinated response and has already been engaging with the commissioner, local gardaí, and the local authority to make sure there is a comprehensive response and plan in place to support the community.

She wants to make sure gardaí are working with local authorities and local communities to get to the “heart of some of these issues”.

One councillor, from Clondalkin, said: “We need a new approach to dealing with these kids. If there is no intervention at a very early stage, they just become lost to crime.”

I have news for her. We figured that out in the 1980s and it’s not a new approach that’s needed but a return to the old one.

Ms McEntee is far too young to remember the models we had in place back then, but if she is serious about her commitment to community engagement, she should talk to the people who do.

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