By Jimmy Woulfe
Armed gardaí will be on the streets of Rathkeale over the Christmas period as part of a major policing plan to deal with a massive influx of Travellers from all over Europe to the Co Limerick town.
Extra plainclothes gardaí, members of the traffic corps, and a small number of armed officers will form part of a permanent police presence in the town to “ensure everybody has a safe and enjoyable Christmas”, head of the Newcastle West Garda district Supt Eamon O’Neill confirmed yesterday
Following extensive consultations members of the settled and Traveller community and local businesses, the policing plan includes special court sittings and the HSE will set up a triage clinic with a doctor and a nurse to support existing medical services in the town.
During the Christmas and New Year period, the town’s population swells from about 1,500 to more than 3,000 with the arrival of transient Travellers with family links to the town. Many come from Germany and the UK in expensive caravans which they park in the town, leading to congestion of housing estates and traffic mayhem.
Last year, there was a public outcry over the behaviour of some visitors and there was a spate of public order incidents on the streets.
Supt O’Neill said that, following extensive consultations, a policing plan has been put in place which will start at the end of this month and continue into January so prompt action can be taken to deal with any issues which may occur.
“Sgt Niall Flood will be based in Rathkeale to take overall supervision of the policing plan,” said Supt O’Neill. “There will be a permanent Garda presence over the period of the plan and we will be drawing on divisional resources with the deployment of the traffic unit, the armed response unit, and plainclothes members to ensure everybody can enjoy the holiday period.
“All we want to achieve is that everybody has a safe and enjoyable Christmas and we don’t want to turn Christmas in Rathkeale into a police event. But we will have what we deem to be appropriate Garda resources to deal with anything which might occur. And there will be extra courts sittings if deemed necessary.
“We have met with the settled and Traveller community, with business people, publicans, public representatives, and all the stakeholders to reassure them that all necessary resources will be in place and we will be outlining the details of the plan to them in the coming days.”
Fine Gael TD Tom Neville, whose constituency office is in Rathkeale, welcomed the plan for the town.
“All we want for Rathkeale is that over the Christmas/New Year holiday it gets the same extra resource as other towns get during the summer period when major festivals are hosted and they experience a big influx of visitors,” he said.
“Rathkeale has a short sharp burst in population over a short period and you need all these extra resources to kick in.”
This article first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.