Garda Youth Awards - Invaluable asset to the community

For several years, many of Ireland’s principal institutions, ranging from An Garda Síochána to the Catholic Church, have been embroiled in controversies of their own making.

Thus, it is refreshing to record that a highly successful community youth award scheme which began in West Cork almost 20 years ago is operating effectively in 19 other divisions across the country. That the importance of the scheme has been recognised nationally is largely due to the outstanding work of one member of the force, Garda James O’Mahoney, a juvenile liaison officer based in Bandon.

Having, in 1995, single-handedly set up the Garda Youth Awards, a scheme which marks the contribution of young people to society, he has continued to work tirelessly to strengthen ties with young people in the local community.

At a time when hundreds of Garda stations have been closed, it would be hard to exaggerate the magnitude of his achievements. Thankfully, he is not the kind of man likely to sit back and bask in the limelight. With his finger firmly on the social pulse of modern Ireland, he clearly saw the difficulties young people experience today, realising what every parent knows – that the youth of Ireland are increasingly at risk of developing mental health problems, with the result that they often turn to abusing drugs or committing crime.

In response to this growing problem, and realising that gardaí alone could not deal with it, he has also founded, with the help of other community leaders, the Kinsale Youth Support Services, which employ a dedicated youth worker.

In a welcome development, his attainments, which by any yardstick are impressive, were acknowledged in Killarney last Friday by the internal Garda scheme Coiste Siamsa Garda Sportstar Awards. Up to now, as the name implies, these awards have been conferred on gardaí who excelled in sport, but they have now been widened to include gardaí who contribute to the social and cultural life of communities where they live. It could hardly be more appropriate that Garda O’Mahoney is the first winner of the new plaudit. The sports awards were conferred on Garda Don Davis and Garda Damian White.

The initial plan was for Acting Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan to present him with the award. But, knowing what the West Cork honour has meant to the 25 young people concerned, he delegated his daughter Mary to attend the Killarney ceremony in his place. Instead, he went to the presentation of the youth awards in Kinsale, where Inspector Brendan Fogarty of Bandon Garda Station, chairman of the judging committee, paid tribute to SuperValu and the Irish Examiner for their continued sponsorship since the scheme’s inception.

Significantly, the event was also attended by a visibly impressed Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. As the first justice minister to accept an invitation to the event, she has put a more human face on a Government which, for understandable reasons, has been preoccupied with economic matters rather than tackling the grinding social problems of communities where the work performed by gardaí of the calibre of James O’Mahoney is priceless.

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