Cormac O'Keeffe: Communities crying out for safety measures

Cormac O'Keeffe: Communities crying out for safety measures

Scramblers, quad bikes, and joyriders have wreaked havoc in some areas, but gardaí say they are powerless to stop them, writes security correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe.

Sport pitches and local green areas torn apart. The very survival of one GAA club at stake.

A child sucking on a soother crashing a mini-scrambler into a metal pole. Parents scared their kids will be knocked down if they let them out. Gardaí apparently unable to act and protect communities.

These are some of the ongoing problems caused by scramblers, quad bikes, and joyriders that were highlighted again over the Christmas and new year period in communities across the country, particularly in working-class areas.

In many cases, and despite Garda warnings, parents bought scramblers for their children for Christmas.

“This is going on a number of years, parents keep buying their children, as young as 10, quads and scramblers. They can’t handle them,” said Anthony Clinton, PRO of Croí Ró Naofa GAA club in Tallaght, south Dublin.

The club, based in Killinarden Park in west Tallaght, is now facing the real possibility of shutting down.

“Our survival is at stake,” said Mr Clinton. “We are going into our 20th anniversary and we will be without a home venue in 2020 unless some immediate action is taken.”

The club has identified 41 burnt-out vehicles in the park in the last two years — 17 in 2018, 23 in 2019 and one already this year. The club has uploaded on its Facebook page the most recent images of burnt-out cars in the park, from New Year’s Eve and Tuesday, January 7.

Mr Clinton said the club’s numbers have dropped because of the antisocial behaviour.

“Our purpose is to provide Gaelic games to the people of this parish and we can’t do that. Our pitches are constantly under threat,” he said.

You put children out there training or to play matches and you have scramblers and quads tearing up and down and if they hit a child, we are the ones responsible.

Last October, the Irish Examiner highlighted extensive damage caused to the pitches by joyriders and scramblers.

Mr Clinton said on New Year’s Eve, a club official came across a car burning in the park at around 5.30pm, set alight after destroying the two pitches.

He said his father, the club’s chair, was in the park last weekend and there were seven to eight scramblers and quad bikes “bombing up and down the footpath and through the pitches”. And on Tuesday officials came across another burnt-out car in the park.

Mr Clinton said gardaí complained they were “powerless” to do anything, particularly if they give chase and hit a scrambler. He renewed calls to South Dublin County Council to build a proper wall around the park to at least prevent joyriders from getting in.

Club officials are meeting both the council and gardaí tomorrow.

Mr Clinton said legislative action was urgently needed to give gardaí powers to seize scramblers.

Also over Christmas, dramatic images showed the damage caused to two pitches of south Dublin football club Cabinteely FC by joyriders, with the car set alight on one of them.

Footage also circulated from north Dublin of a child, in the company of a man, driving a mini scrambler at speed into a metal pole and hitting his head.

There were also reports of a pregnant woman being hit by a scrambler in Dublin’s north inner city.

Sinn Féin councillor Dáithí Doolan, representing Ballyfermot/Drimnagh in Dublin’s South West, said scramblers caused significant damage to two football pitches in Drimnagh, while a GAA pitch had its goalmouth area destroyed by a fire.

“This destruction is unacceptable and wrong,” he said. “It will not be tolerated by our community. I know first-hand how important these facilitates are to the people of Drimnagh. People are furious at this antisocial behaviour. We need the gardaí to respond quickly when the public call the Garda stations for assistance in catching those involved. The gardaí must move in and catch them in the act.”

He called on the council to repair the pitches and urged them to work with gardaí and emergency services in implementing a public awareness campaign in 2020 highlighting “the dangers to health and safety when buying quads or scramblers for young people at Christmas”.

Cormac O'Keeffe: Communities crying out for safety measures

Research published by Finglas Safety Forum in north Dublin last June found that scramblers and quad bikes were the biggest local issue complained of by locals, with 76% saying they were very concerned and a further 11% somewhat concerned.

In June 2018, Ilabek Avetian, then 38, was severely injured when a teenager drove over his head with a scrambler as he lay sunbathing with his wife in Darndale Park, north Dublin. He suffered severe brain injury and lost one eye and multiple fractures.

Sinn Féin councillor for Cork City North West Thomas Gould said he received calls from people complaining about the noise and damage caused by scramblers in green areas and in estates over Christmas.

He said gardaí are “very frustrated” with the law and said they are limited in what they can do.

He said Sinn Féin had previously proposed a bill giving gardaí power to seize these bikes if they were being used in an anti-social or dangerous way, but that the Government would not support it.

He is pushing an innovative proposal which, he said, would help both communities and those genuinely interested in scramblers.

He said one dad rang him over Christmas saying his 12-year-old son was not into soccer or GAA but into scramblers and wanted to know if there was somewhere he could go.

Mr Gould had suggested last year to Cork City Council about setting up a track where these youths driving scramblers could go.

I’m thinking a facility on the outskirts of the city. It could be positive for the whole city and everyone would be a winner — and it could be a model for the country because it’s a huge issue right across Dublin.

He said he would be making a proposal to the council again in the coming months.

The Government has objected to Fianna Fáil draft laws on scramblers and quad bikes.

Last July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said better enforcement of existing laws, rather than new powers, was needed to tackle the problem and cited ongoing work of a Department of Justice cross-agency group on the matter.

Launching its bill, Fianna Fáil deputy for Dublin South West John Lahart said: “Existing road traffic legislation does not apply to green spaces, housing estates, or public parks, which are the very places where these vehicles are most commonly used and causing hassle. Even when gardaí do receive complaints, the users of these vehicles simply speed off-road to prevent gardaí from taking any action.”

His colleague, John Curran said: “Under our bill, riding a quad or scrambler bike in an anti-social and dangerous manner will be an offence under Ireland’s public order legislation for the first time.”

Last October, the Department of Justice said the working group was examining legislative proposals made Garda commissioner Drew Harris aimed at improving policing on scramblers.

In an updated statement, the department said: “A meeting of the cross-agency group — including representatives from An Garda Síochána and the Department of Transport, Tourism, and Sport — was held on December 9, to discuss these proposals and associated matters.”

The statement said: “The group agreed that [the Department of Transport] would explore the feasibility of developing new legislative provisions in road traffic legislation, which would seek to deliver the benefits sought by An Garda Síochána, without unintended consequences for the existing legislation.”

Cormac O'Keeffe: Communities crying out for safety measures

It said addressing the misuse of scramblers was a “complex matter” and required a multi-faceted approach.

“At the meeting, An Garda Síochána agreed to explore further targeted enforcement measures; while also advising that they would have a visible presence in affected communities over the Christmas period.”

“It was also agreed that the Department of Justice and Equality would consider and develop actions in order to increase awareness of the dangers of these vehicles jointly with affected communities, community groups, and other stakeholders, and explore how best to engage with young persons who are drawn to this behaviour.

The department is currently developing a strategy in this regard.”

Garda sources told the Irish Examiner there are a number of issues that needed to be clarified in law.

One source said that if a scrambleris on the road and it is not taxed orinsured or the driver is not wearing a helmet, they can legally act.

He said there is a grey area regarding industrial estates and business parks regarding whether roads or car parks are private or public property.

There is even greater confusion over public parks and greens, with outdated bylaws making leaving it unclear regarding what gardaí can do, sources said.

Pursuit of scramblers is discouraged given how easy it is for scramblers to go from roads to footpaths, to greens and the safety risk both to the driver and the general public, if gardaí engage in active pursuits.

Gardaí feel a bit hamstrung and need clarity about what they can do. They don’t want to do something, end up hitting a scrambler or the scrambler hitting a pedestrian and there is a Gsoc investigation into the garda’s activity.

The Policing Commission, which reported in September 2018 and is being implemented by the Government,redefined policing to include “community safety” and made it a responsibility of other state agencies apart from the gardaí.

This “community safety” is exactly what clubs like Croí Ró Naofa and local areas affected by scramblers and joyriders are crying out for.

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