Dear Commissioner Harris... we need the gardaí on the streets

There was a huge reaction to Ailin Quinlan's column last week on the lack of gardaí on the beat in Cork towns - here she follows up with a letter to the Garda Commissioner on the issue
Dear Commissioner Harris... we need the gardaí on the streets

Ailin is asking Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris why we don’t have gardaí on the beat in our towns anymore. Picture: Gareth Chaney

DEAR Commissioner Harris,

I must admit I didn’t quite realise the real impact of the procedure which governs how Gardaí must respond to calls from the public.

Last Saturday, I wrote about what happened when I rang the Garda station in the picture-post-card West Cork town of Clonakilty to report the shenanigans of some young thugs. (Catch up on it here)

It was early afternoon and I had just witnessed a young male in a hoodie riding an e-scooter very rapidly through the middle of a pavement in the town centre, forcing an elderly woman to flatten herself against a wall to avoid being run down.

When I asked him to stop, the young man demanded to know why he shouldn’t be riding his scooter along a footpath. On hearing my patient explanation that footpaths were, er, for people who used their feet, he simply re-mounted and continued to drive though the middle of the pavement.

A few seconds later, I saw a teenager tearing at speed around the footpaths of the small, pretty, town park, then forcing his bicycle through the shrubbery, breaking and smashing it, to loud cheers of encouragement and amusement from his friends.

So I rang the local gardaí station, only to learn that gardaí could not respond until I, as the complainant, had first been contacted by someone in Garda Control.

Garda Control was not based in the town, obviously, so the policeman I dealt with was unfamiliar with the lay-out of Clonakilty. Therefore, some explanation was required as to where everything was happening. Some minutes passed while I answered the mandatory list of questions. More minutes passed while the local station was contacted by Control and given approval to send a garda car downtown to investigate. Too many minutes. Way too many minutes.

I have read about the concern voiced by front-line gardaí about the impact this bureaucracy is having on their ability to respond even to reports of local traffic accidents. But this was the first time I had actually witnessed the consequences of this policy in real time.

I understand, Commissioner Harris, that you had more than 30 years policing experience with the PSNI – no rose garden, I’m sure – before moving to the Republic as Garda Commissioner. I am sure you are an absolutely sterling police offer and a very intelligent man. So I am not going to beat around the bush here.

From what I witnessed, in a pretty West Cork tourist town renowned for its friendliness and beauty, this policy has effectively tied the hands of the Gardaí and keeps them safely locked away in the Garda Station while out-of-control thugs rampage through the streets at will.

As the elderly lady observed following our troubling encounter with E-Scooter Man, we never see a unformed Garda on the beat anymore.

So, Commissioner Harris, here is just a flavour of the public reaction to my column...

A local woman said that e-scooters and bikes on pavements are now a major problem for pedestrians in Clonakilty.

A retired garda contacted me to say that he hadn’t seen a “beat man” for years in the Cork suburb where he now lives. He wrote that he witnesses “cyclists and e-scooters riding on the pavements and cars parked up on footpaths.”

“I was a great believer of having foot-soldiers on the beat,” he wrote.

“When I was working in X, if the post office a few doors down was being robbed, our mobile units, our uniformed personnel, armed detective branch, could not attend unless directed by Central Control. Your article was very good. Hope D Harris sees!”

Another Clonakilty resident contacted me to say that “there is illegal, drinking, drug dealing and all sorts of things going on openly” in this lovely town, adding that perpetrators have adopted a “cocky and brazen attitude of disrespect” because they were so confident that they wouldn’t ever be questioned, let alone apprehended by gardaí.

He also complained that the issue of e-scooters being driven along footpaths has become a daily problem. He said that when some locals had attempted to find out why nothing was being done about the problem, they were told by garda management there was no legislation governing the use of e-scooters and they should ring the station if they needed help. (Well, we saw where that got me.)

“The Garda station is about 200 metres from the main street,” this resident observed, adding that when he has previously contacted gardaí about an issue, he is told that a patrol car will drive the 200 metres from the station into “a town already congested with traffic, and compounded sometimes by illegal parking”.

I’m not being smart here, but surely driving a squad car into the middle of traffic congestion isn’t the best of solutions to a rapidly evolving anti-social event, one would imagine?

“Why they can’t walk or cycle down is beyond me,” he declared.

It’s beyond me too, I have to admit.

What is the problem with putting feet on the street. Commissioner Harris?

Ironically, during the local St Patrick’s Day Parade or the Eucharistic Procession, all of which are extremely well-organised and stewarded by local volunteers, there is a very visible garda presence on the streets of Clonakilty.

The writer was not critical of front-line gardaí, he emphasised. However, he felt there were legitimate questions about how resources and rotas were being managed. He expressed concern that the previously happy, tranquil small-town life in Clonakilty and other rural towns was now sliding in the direction of “the petty and general crime, vandalism and drug dealing which used to be a characteristic of big cities”.

What is happening and will continue to happen if something isn’t changed, he warns, is that “ordinary, decent and law-abiding people like that frightened old lady will continue to feel abandoned and insecure.”

Enough said. What’s your view, Drew?

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