The gates of cemeteries in Cork City may be locked at night in a bid to prevent vandals from desecrating graves.
Some city councillors have called for restricted visiting hours at council-managed cemeteries after a sickening attack just days before Christmas.
Up to 60 graves and headstones were damaged when a gang rampaged through St Joseph’s Cemetery in Ballyphehane. Gardaí are investigating the incident.
Councillors discussed the issue at Monday’s city council meeting and said gangs of youths and, in some cases, groups of adults, are using cemeteries for late-night drinking parties.
The practice is causing distress to the relatives of those buried there, and the antisocial behaviour is causing severe problems for residents living nearby, councillors said.
Cllr Mick Finn (Ind) called for a new policy of late-night cemetery closures and for security measures to be stepped up.
Cllr Lorraine Kingston (Lab) said she was shocked at the mindless damage caused in St Joseph’s Cemetery. “This wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s been going on for years,” she said.
Cllr Emmet O’Halloran (FG) criticised the fact that people are flouting bylaws by drinking alcohol openly in nearby Tory Top Park.
While closing cemeteries at night would go some way towards deterring unauthorised access, Cllr Henry Cremin (SF) said “if hoodlums want to get in, they’ll climb over walls”.
The sale by off-licences of cheap drink was the root of the problem, said Cllr Tim Brosnan (FF).
He called for the age limit in off-licences to be increased to 23, and for a minimum spend limit of €25 to be introduced.
Cllr Michael O’Connell (Lab) urged caution, saying the issue of restricted visiting hours for cemeteries should be treated sensitivity.
“We need to take a step back on this and consider the impact that shutting the gates would have on very vulnerable people who need that sort of comfort at a time of difficulty,” said Mr O’Connell. “Whatever action we take, we must maintain access to our cemeteries 24/7.”
Lord Mayor John Buttimer, a member of Friends of St Finbarr’s Cemetery, said antisocial behaviour, and not accessibility to the cemeteries, was the issue to be considered.
“It would be terrible if we had to lock the cemeteries, or restrict access,” he said. “Whatever is done, we will have to find the best possible outcome for the families whose loved ones are buried in these cemeteries.”
City manager Tim Lucey said closing cemetery gates at night would be “a retrograde step”. “This issue does require very, very careful consideration,” he said.
The issue will be discussed by the council’s environment issue over the coming months before proposals are drawn up.
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