A spate of robberies and break-ins, some occurring while the occupants were still at home, has caused some concern for the residents of Dublin 15, particularly in the Castleknock and Carpenterstown area. Residents in Carpenterstown have particular cause for concern following a brazen sexual assault in a public park known locally as Tír Na nÓg Park. A woman in her 30s was assaulted at 7.30am while she was walking in the park on a Saturday morning (October 18th). The man in question tried to strangle his victim during the course of an attempted sexual assault. The woman managed to free herself and fled the scene. Her assailant, believed to be in his 20s, has not been apprehended by the Gardai.
That the park is located next to a secondary school is the source of some concern for local residents. The park is used as a training ground for the school’s sports teams. Most residents are beyond angry, having raised concerns on numerous occasions to local councils about security in the park due to a lack of public lighting. Days later, in another public park in the area, a naked pervert was spotted hiding in some bushes. This time the perpetrator is believed to be an older man, about 35 years old and bald. Once again, the man has not been apprehended by Gardaí. Compound these frightening incidents with a spate of robberies in the area and local residents are in a state of uproar.
Local councillors clearly sensed this discontent though they clearly underestimated the level of concern amongst their constituents. Councillors Ted Leddy and Eithne Loftus chaired a public meeting in Castleknock Hotel on Monday 3rd Novebember. The meeting was attended by minister Leo Varadkar as well as representatives from Blanchardstown Garda Station (including Superintendent Declan Coburn) and aimed to address concerns at the rise in crime and anti-social behaviour.
Five minutes before the meeting, the narrow approach road to Castleknock Hotel became congested causing tailbacks and forcing the hotel to send staff out to the entrance to help direct traffic. As the crowd inside the meeting room swelled it became clear that the councillors had not anticipated the level of outrage in the local area. The room had to be reconfigured twice as hotel staff opened up partition doorways expanding the size of the room. Despite this, a large number of residents were still forced to stand at the back of the room and in the corridor outside. Even Minister Varadkar seemed impressed by the size of the crowd, taking photos with his camera phone as hotel staff struggled to accommodate them.
The meeting was opened by Councillor Leddy who quickly received notice of the crowd’s derision as he dropped a clanger by mentioning a statistic that in the course of 30 years most households will be burgled at least once. Hopefully this is not the case, though the councillor seemed to be trying to convince the crowd that they were lucky if they’d only been burgled once in a life-time. An angry murmur rose from the crowd. The crowd were even less pleased by Leo Varadkar’s staple excuse of a lack of resource in the Gardaí, stating that Garda numbers have dropped from 180 to 150 in Blanchardstown over recent years.
What followed did little to dispel the anger in the crowd as a number of local home security companies and locksmiths were given the floor in order to make half-hearted sales pitches. The crowd had little patience as one salesman struggled through his presentation accidentally displaying his speech on the projector screen and failing to get the audio working on his video presentation. Clearly flustered, the man persevered and stumbled through a presentation where he seemed to suggest that, despite the fact that austerity had reduced state funding to local law enforcement, residents should shell out on expensive locks and laminated glass. The best response he got was when he finished his presentation, as the crowd curtly invited him to leave the stage.
A more competent presentation followed as the Garda Crime Prevention officer took to the stage. Crime Prevention Officers (CPOs) are trained to encourage, promote and advise on crime prevention in both private and business communities. Vincent Connolly is the CPO for Dublin West. There were mutterings of discontent from the crowd when he announced how wide an area this officer was asked to cover single handedly, covering the West side of Dublin city and a wide selection of its suburbs. The CPO gave sage advice about securing homes and gardens, criminals masquerading as maintenance engineers from well-known utility companies and the importance of alert neighbourhoods. Apparently fishing car-keys through household letter boxes is commonplace in Dublin 15.
Following the Garda presentation, a number of local residents gave accounts of their own experiences, many telling tales of car thefts and break-ins. One distraught woman told of how her home was invaded by four masked men as her family, including three young daughters, were at home watching television. The woman and one of her daughters were both assaulted as their possessions were stolen. A local shop owner called into question bail laws which allow repeat offenders to walk the streets and very often re-offend. His own shop had been burgled by a man who had been out on bail following over a dozen counts of burglary and petty crime.
Members of local neighbourhood watch groups called policing into question, accusing the Gardaí of abandoning them having pulled out of many schemes. Residents made useful suggestions about the presence of local Gardaí on bikes in previous years as a useful deterrent and again highlighted the withdrawal of such services. Many residents also highlighted the rise in anti-social behaviour since the local Community Garda service was discontinued. The success rate of Gardaí was called into question, many victims pointing out that there was no follow up from Gardaí following incidents. The Gardaí were asked to improve communication with residents pointing out that social media and modern technology should make it easy to warn residents about criminal activity in their area.
Despite many helpful suggestions from the assembled crowd, both the Garda representatives and Minister Varadkar were short on promises and short on solutions. The only positive piece of news was that 100 new Garda recruits were currently training in Templemore. The Minister couldn’t promise how many of these recruits were destined for his own constituency. In fact he sidestepped the question, indicating he faced an even greater shortage of resource in the health sector. The local councillors also promised to improve the public lighting in Tír Na nÓg Park.
One local resident informed me that having become the victim of a recent robbery she was unable to register her complaint by phone and was asked to visit her local station. In the station the woman was still unable to register her property as stolen because the Garda in charge of the case was not at the station. Such work practices are archaic; the Garda behind the station was wasted deflecting complaints while the Garda investigating the case was required to manage all related complaints in person. Surely any officer could have added the complaint to the Pulse system allowing the attending officer to go about their business.
Many of us have experienced the effects of austerity both at home and in the workplace. A lack of resources and a lack of funds hamper our everyday lives. However, none of us can hide behind these problems and still remain productive. We work smarter and we adapt. The time for excuses is over, this government and the Garda leadership need to act.
[Images, Castleknock.net, author]