ANTI-SOCIAL behaviour is high on the agenda in Waterford these days.
Last week, to the astonishment of city councillors, one local community actively lobbied to prevent a playground being built in their housing estate for fear it would become the focus for trouble-making youths.
In a separate development, the go-ahead has been given for infill housing between a number of existing homes in the Lisduggan area in an effort to oust drug dealers and others who hang out there.
Just days earlier, the Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy visited the city and described the nationwide problem of public order offences as “a reflection of the way we, as a society, have chosen to live”.
“Despite continuous rigourous enforcement it gives me and my colleagues frustration and concern,” the commissioner said.
The Waterford/Kilkenny garda division increased its strength by 6% since 1999, but the population in the region has also grown during this time.
Each year in Ireland there are 6,000 public order detections: of these 1,287 were in Waterford in 2003 and over 800 this year.
“The day the thug wins out is a sad day for us,” Pat Hayes, local Labour Party councillor said, following the decision to abandon the playground development.
“Surely we as a community should be able to do something to prevent that - and it now appears we’re not able to,” he added. “We need to take hard decisions that benefit the community.”
Residents in the city’s Ballybeg area, however, feel they are the ones who have been betrayed.
“The gardaí and the city council have let us down,” Laura Murphy-Jacob explained. “They know who’s doing stuff and they don’t do anything,” she said. “They want people to stand up in court and no one wants to.”
She cited a recent incident when, in broad daylight, a group of youths armed with sticks ran riot through a nearby street smashing the windows of cars and houses. “I was woken up by fellas busting windows,” she said. “The guards were called but nothing happened - you don’t want trouble like that on your doorstep.”
While gardaí admit public order can be a problem in some areas, they say the community’s help is vital to overcome the problem.
“Unfortunately it is a problem encountered where people are afraid to come forward,” Sgt John McDonald said. “We can’t influence people if they don’t want to get involved.”
He explains that in the incident mentioned, gardaí seized weapons at the scene and are actively investigating conflicting accounts of what took place before making any arrests.
“The fact that people are not arrested at the scene doesn’t mean there won’t be any court appearances,” Sgt McDonald said.
Local Superintendent Michael McGarry says Waterford remains one of the safest cities in Ireland and has had “tremendous success” with policing incidences of public disorder.
“The detections show we are not merely highlighting a problem - we are addressing it,” he said.
To “take on the thug”, he says, requires more than pointing the finger and expecting the gardaí to have all the answers. While the Juvenile Diversion Programme is having considerable success in Waterford “some trouble-making elements” remain just outside the reach of its age profile.
“We cannot deal with parental responsibility. People can let their kids run riot,” he said.
“I’m certainly very happy with our success rates, but we can’t do it on our own,” he said.