Extra garda resources for County Limerick town during Christmas surge

Maria Flannery


Maria Flannery

The district superintendent has confirmed that extra garda resources will be laid on to police Rathkeale over Christmas

The district superintendent has confirmed that extra garda resources will be laid on to police Rathkeale over Christmas

NEWCASTLE West’s new district superintendent has confirmed that extra garda resources will be laid on to police Rathkeale over Christmas — as the town gears up to accommodate double its population over the next two months.

Supt Eamon O’Neill, who recently took over after Supt Tom O’Connor’s retirement, said that the garda response will be “proportionate”.

There will be extra patrols of gardai, due to a provision in the budget from An Garda Síochana for the policing of Rathkeale.

However, he told the Limerick Leader that there will not be armed gardaí patrolling the streets unless they are called to deal with a specific incident.

“We will have a traffic corps, and we’ll have whatever other appropriate response is needed for whatever incidents occur.

“If required, the armed response unit will be in attendance. We don’t want this to be a police event, we want to treat it proportionately. We also want to have the knowledge that if something does happen of a serious nature, we will have the resources to call on if necessary,” said Supt O’Neill.

The Newcastle West supt, who used to work as an inspector in the district, added that the Limerick divisional units will be available if and when they are needed.

“The special detective unit, the drugs unit, the armed response unit and the traffic corps, all of those cover the whole division. We have a commitment that if we require any or all of them at any stage, we can call on them.”

At a sub-committee meeting of the Joint Policing Committee, called to discuss the policing of Rathkeale over Christmas, Supt O’Neill confirmed that he is committed to making sure “everyone in Rathkeale can enjoy Christmas safely and within the law”.

Newcastle West Sergeant Niall Flood, who previously worked in Rathkeale and has been described as a “huge loss to the town” since his move to the district base, is now moving back to Rathkeale garda station on a full-time basis, it was confirmed at the meeting.

Sgt Flood will oversee the operations in Rathkeale for Christmas.

Supt O’Neill said that preparations for policing the Christmas period have involved meetings with “all stakeholders, including business owners in the area and residents”, from both the settled and Traveller communities.

FG Cllr Adam Teskey raised concerns about overtime for the local gardai. “Where you have 2,500 people coming into a town at once, we should be treating it like a major festival,” he said.

FG Cllr Stephen Keary, the Mayor of Limerick City and County, said that his office in the town’s Main Street will be “unusable” from this week on.

“Children will be marauding,” he said. Supt O’Neill said that gardai will engage with families, but Cllr Keary asked if Tusla could be involved.

FF Cllr Kevin Sheahan suggested that welcoming the visitors with a positive attitude might go a long way towards easing the tension and hostility that is often seen between the camps of permanent residents and visitors.

“It’s not an invasion,” he said. “Some of them are hostile, but most of the behaviour is an annoyance and not necessarily a crime.”

Cllr Sheahan suggested a community patrol initiative, adding that a lot of people make money out of the visitors.

The current attitude locally only sends out one signal, he said.

“There are a lot of people who make a lot of money out of them. It’s like the Galway Races!” he added.

“It happens in other countries where visitors are made to feel welcome. We need assistance from gardai, but local people should be encouraged. It wouldn’t hurt rather than the hostility.

“These are people who have some connection, even if it goes back a long way, to Rathkeale. It’s like English people going to the beach in the summertime,” he exclaimed.

Cllr Keary disputed the claim that businesses make money, saying that many of the local residents would not come shopping in the town for two months of the year.

He said that illegal furniture trading during the period is detrimental to a local furniture trader who supports local jobs, and who pays €45,000 in commercial rates to the council every year.

Cllr Kevin Sheahan accused Cllr Keary of “having a bee in his bonnet about Travellers!” — a statement which Cllr Keary urged him to retract.

SF Cllr Ciara McMahon said: “Every year, Christmas in Rathkeale always offers a surprise for us.”