Gardaí must listen to communities to help make them safer, activist tells Policing Authority

Gardaí must listen to communities to help make them safer, activist tells Policing Authority

The most important gardaí are those who “work on the ground”, but they are “not valued”, a longtime community activist has said.

Rita Fagan, a community development worker for 31 years in Dublin's south inner city, said people want “old fashioned policing”.

Ms Fagan, director of the Family Resource Centre, in St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore, said communities that have been “wiped out” by drugs now faced a serious time because of gangland, children being groomed into gangs and people being “afraid to speak out”.

She was speaking at a conference on community safety organised by the Policing Authority.

The recent Policing Commission report highlighted “community safety” as a central issue and recommended a new multi-agency structure to protect it.

The Commission also recommended that the Authority and the Garda Inspectorate be merged into a new Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission (PCSOC) to promote and scrutinise this new structure.

Authority chair Josephine Feehily said they were “struggling” with the concept of community safety and its oversight and said there needed to be clarity of PCSOC's role and capabilities.

Ms Fagan read out two letters from local people.

One related to a man who complained of a gang of 20 youths, aged between eight and 18, who had been “terrorising” the local neighbourhood, assaulting people.

He said he sometimes went home two hours later than he otherwise would in order to avoid the gang, who had chased him after he tried to help a couple they were assaulting.

Policing Authority chair Josephine Feehily
Policing Authority chair Josephine Feehily

Ms Fagan called for a multi-agency approach. She said austerity had “cut everything” in local communities, including youth projects and policing.

"The most important guards are the guards that work on the ground, but community policing is not valued," she said.

Ms Fagan said “hot spots” of disadvantage, anti-social behaviour and gangs required more resources.

She added: “We need to listen to our communities.”

Criminologist Johnny Connolly, Policing Commission member, said the recommendation on community safety was “one of the most innovative proposals in police reform nationally and internationally".

He said it required fundamental change in An Garda Síochána and other agencies "stepping up to the mark" and doing their job.

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