Children as young as six from visiting Traveller families are allowed to “run riot” through the streets of Rathkeale during the Christmas/New Year holiday period, a meeting of the town’s joint policing committee heard.
The population of the West Limerick town doubles to more than 3,000 with the arrival of visiting Travellers from the UK and mainland Europe.
The first of the visiting Travellers began to arrive in recent days, many in caravans which they park adjacent to houses belonging to relatives.
Special policing measures have been put in place over a number of years during the holiday period to deal with a wide range of issues.
Additional roadblocks are put in place through the deployment of the Traffic Corps to deal with youths in high-powered cars, and there is a notable presence of the divisional Drug Unit and Armed Detective units.
An emerging menace in recent years, according to Fine Gael councillor Stephen Keary, is caused by groups of visiting Traveller children.
“From 5pm in the evening, as soon as it gets dark, groups of children — some of whom are as young as six or seven — run riot around the town,” said Mr Keary.
“The shops in Rathkeale lose a lot of business over what goes on in the town with hundreds of families from the surrounding hinterland opting to go to Newcastle West or into Limerick to shop as traffic in Rathkeale can get chaotic.”
Garda Supt Aileen Magner told the meeting that tried-and-tested measures in recent years will again form the Garda action plan in Rathkleale over the holiday period.
Supt Magner said a youth cafe geared towards young visiting Travellers had proven very successful last year and its opening hours will be extended this year.
Regarding the behaviour of children referred to by Mr Keary, she said they were too young to refer to the Garda Juvenile Diversion programme, but the gardaí are in ongoing liaison with Tusla on issues as they arise.
She said two laneways in the town which have been a source of anti-social behaviour will be blocked off with gates this Christmas.
The HSE set up a clinic in Rathkeale to help the local GP and nursing services.