Enlightenment Shines At Youghal Joint Policing Committee Meeting.
By Christy Parker
YOUGHAL held its second bi-annual Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting following the June town council meeting. JPC’s are statutory bodies comprising representatives from the town council, the Oireachtas, An Garda and community organisations. They facilitate discussion on matters relating to crime and general policing in the community.
The Youghal meeting was attended by town clerk Liam Ryan, all nine town councillors, Garda Superintendent John Quilter, Inspector Eoin Healy, Comhaltas Craobh Eochaill Chairman Micheál de Buitléir and Mary Daly-White of Rapid and the Residents’ Network. Cork East TD David Stanton was unable to attend due to Oireachtas business and it was agreed that his request for future meeting times to be arranged to avoid such conflict in future. The meeting was chaired by Mayor Eoin Coyne.
In an opening address, Superintendent Quilter several times stressed the vital importance of community assistance to enable An Garda to perform its duties to the best effect. “We cannot operate on our own. We do not have the resources,” he explained. “And also we need the public input to help us form a model for policing that benefits us all.”
The superintendent recalled two recent occasions when such co-operation proved highly effective. The first involved a robbery from a jewellery shop in Midleton. As a result of a ‘text-watch’ system relaying details throughout the district, the thieves’ car was recognised in Youghal by a member of the business public and the thieves arrested and subsequently brought to court and convicted.
Secondly, he noted, the discovery of a cannabis growing plant in Youghal resulted from a member of the public reporting their suspicions about activity at the site in the Frogmore area.
Superintendent Quilter promised “no reduction in the quality of service” arising from the new Garda rostering system. On the contrary, with overlapping shifts, he referred to extra manpower available during peak times and said it also offered greater opportunity towards patrolling estates etc.
Turning to crime statistics, the superintendent made the following observations covering the year from June 2011 to May 2012, in the Youghal area:
Property: There were 31 burglaries from June 2011 to May 2012, as against 26 for the same period in the previous year. (9% increase)
Thefts from shops: 37 detections as against 22 for 2010-11 (68% increase)
Thefts, other: There was a 22% decline in various thefts genres such as from sheds, gardens, etc.
Thefts from vehicles: A 17% decrease was “significant” given that Youghal is a tourist town; the superintendent warned however that a single ‘spree’ might involve numerous cars at once and so the figures were prone to sudden alteration. He advised against leaving property visible within a parked vehicle at all times.
Crime against the person: Assault figures remained “the same” across both periods, with six serious assaults and 21 minor incidents recorded. There were no reported sexual assaults.
Criminal damage and public order: Arson is down by 67% and criminal damaged down by 10%. Breaches of public order rose from 80 to 103.
Drugs: Possession for sale and supply reflected no changes, at nine detections incidents. Drugs for personal use dropped by 38% and reflected a national trend.
Possession of offensive weapons: Rose by 133% to seven from three incidents.
Travelling criminals: Superintendent Quilter said a number of initiatives were being employed to detect criminals across a wider geographical spectrum. Amongst them was Operation Fiacla which included covert surveillance. Suspects were fast-tracked to court and stringent bail conditions were applied, he elaborated.
High visibility checkpoints: There is a strong adherence targeting recognised crime-associated ‘hot posts.’ The superintendent referred again to burglaries, noting that, statistically, the prime time for burglaries in the Midleton/Youghal area was between noon and 9 pm on Thursdays & Fridays. Recent detection successes in Youghal meant there had been no burglaries in the past three weeks.
Crime Prevention: The garda said public initiatives such as community alert, CRY Garda report, the Garda website, CCTV, signage business watch and text alert combined to help raise awareness and reduce crime in the area.
Youth crime: Underage drinking, public disorder and minor assaults remained problems in the community but the superintendent had fulsome praise for “the excellent Youghal Youth Diversion Programme” being overseen by Nicola Lucey and Katherine Ryan. “Young people who are vulnerable or likely to offend are brought into the programme through various means of referral,” he explained, “and they are doing a fantastic job,” he intoned. Youghal should be very proud of that service, along with the Drugs task Force.”
Inspector Eoghan Healy then spoke on traffic matters, noting that Youghal was “a very “compliant town” in terms of traffic policing. .
Go-safe camera vans: The inspector said 80% of such placements occur where there is a proven chance of an accident and thus far there had been no need to deploy one in Youghal. In the other 20% of cases, the vans are placed in areas where such possibility may evolve. In this instance there are two areas in the Youghal area currently being monitored to assess the need for on-going surveillance,” he revealed.
When go-safe vans were first deployed in 2010, informed the inspector, the speed limit compliance rate was 20-40% and a compliance rate of 85% was targeted. It now varies between 60-70% and 90% depending on the area, principally due to awareness of the vans along with fear of fines and penalty points. “Speed, non-wearing of seat belts and using mobile phones whilst driving,” remain the prime causes of injuries and deaths on Irish roads, he advised.
The garda was also eager to clarify that the go-safe vans “do not make any money for the State.” Rather, he insisted that they saved the State millions of euros that would be expended in accident related incidences, such as ambulances, hospitalisation, human devastation, court appearances, insurance claims, etc, etc. He believed Ireland was now “a leading light,” in Europe in combatting traffic accidents.
Drink driving: Statistics show a fall in (no pun intended!) in this area so far this year, with 35 detections marking a 15% decrease. The inspector attributed the reduction considerably to Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) check points, of which there were 692 instigated in the general Youghal region from June 2011 to May 2012. There is currently an average of three to four MATs being operated daily.
Traffic accidents: While speed contributes immensely to accidents, Inspector Healy insisted collisions can occur at even 30 mph, with nothing other than luck often preserving the difference between a minor wound and a fatal injury. In the 12 months to May 2012 there had been a relatively low total of 79 accidents. There had been 15 serious injuries and no fatalities. He the advised that anyone with reservations about a particular geographical area, should inform the gardaí with a view to having it monitored. it.
Spot Fines: Within the Youghal area about 500 such fines were between June 2011 and May 2012. A traffic corp comprising two sergeants and 10 gardaí exercised an average of 250 “interceptions” of people they “have an interest in,” per month. Inspector Healy also advised that technology now enabled a camera to detect a car devoid of tax insurance or NCT as it drives past.
Community policing: The inspector commended community garda Peter Queally and Sergeant John Sharkey for their roles in Community Alert and other initiatives.
Chairman Eoin Coyne read a letter from Cork East Sinn Féin TD Sandra McLellan on behalf of the Mall, Water Street and Water Lane Residents Association. She said they were concerned -particularly with regard to children and the elderly- about traffic speed levels their street. They were also unhappy that cars accessing the Mall from Water Lane did not always look right when turning towards Strand Street.
After a brief deliberation during which the idea of placing a garda on speed control at Water Lane was dismissed as impractical, Cllr Linehan-Foley suggested that the letter probably meant to refer to the narrow, pavement-deficient passageway that is Strand Street. Inspector Healy was at a loss for a solution however, averring that the town council might be best placed to instigate a remedy of some sort.
The discussion quickly diverted to Magnier’s Hill when Cllr Linehan-Foley expressed grave concern over speeding in that wider thoroughfare. She suggested the go-safe van be parked there at appropriate times and it was agreed to do so. Cllr Sammy Revins advocated a similar measure for the vicinity of the greyhound track and the gardaí took note of this also.
Costcutters and schools
Mary Daly-White drew attention to dangers in crossing the road at Costcutters in Cork Hill. In support, Cllr Revins said the town council had been advocating a pedestrian crossing there for the past seven years. Inspector Healy suggested that he, Sergeant Sharkey and town engineer Paul Murray would discuss the matter privately at a later date. Mary Daly-White also complained about chaotic traffic congestion at Pobalscoil na Trionóide. However given that the main issue was traffic volume, Inspector Healy said it was a common issue around schools across the country and he had no problem with cars having to take their time in such situations. The ‘problem’, he inferred was its own solution in that it caused divers to be alert and to proceed slowly. Cllr Michelle Hennessy said gardaí were regularly present in the area anyway while Cllr Linehan-Foley suggested that congestion at Bunscoil Chorán on Strand Street during school arrivals and departures was far more dangerous. She suggested the gardai and the engineer include that in their meeting also.
Brú na Sí
In a brief digression, Mr De Buitléir expressed concern that the JCP forum did not reflect sufficient non-elected personnel. “The notion of a public forum was not being adequately exercised, by consequence, he felt. Having delivered that point he brought his concerns regarding pedestrian safety at Brú na Si, Magniers Hill/Blackwater Heights to the meeting. He said the centre catered for 160 young people who practised traditional music and culture, while also learning life skills that would fortify their lives. However the facility, along with the nearby Athletic Club, represented access through a cul-de-sac and, he proceeded, local residents were concerned for the safety of their children, as considerable traffic frequented the area.
Mr De Buitléir said it “would be remiss” if him not to raise the matter amongst such stakeholders as the gardaí, the town council, community organisations and his own organisation. He then beseeched the town council to “deal with this child issue tomorrow –not next week or next month, but tomorrow. Please. I’m pleading with this forum.”
Town clerk Liam Ryan replied that it was “primarily unfair to throw the whole health and safety issue at the council and the gardaí.” He suggested that Comhaltas themselves first consider how they dealt with health and safety issues at the facility and then defer to the council and gardaí. He elaborated that the town council had provided the site for Comhaltas ten years ago and provided planning permission for an extension in 2009. This extension had not transpired. While the facility was constructed to meet the requirements of a certain volume of visitors, the subsequent installation of unauthorised portocabins and containers had exasperated safety concerns. Also the provision of car park spaces agreed in the planning permission had not been implemented, he noted.
Mr Ryan said the centre was also being used by other organisations, “contrary to the terms of the original lease and this too had compounded safety concerns. “These issues need to be addressed by Comhaltas,” he advised. Once that occurred he believed neither the council nor the gardaí “would be found wanting” in implementing better policing and infrastructure.
Mr De Buitléir commenced a response in turn but, perceiving the discussion was straying into political territory and beyond the essence of a JPC forum, Mayor/Chairman Eoin Coyne –to general agreement- quickly refused him further floor time. Hence the possibility of an invigorating public spat with choice garda witnesses was swiftly extinguished.
Child care, television, garda cars and drugs
Cllr Barbara Murray led the discussion down a different road when she inquired as to the level of child welfare in Youghal and of social services’ activities in the area. Superintendent Quilter said the service was confidential and, while the HSE had primary responsibility on child welfare, all organisations had a duty of care towards children. He said the gardaí and the HSE worked in tandem, with the gardai playing more of an investigatory role. Referrals take place constantly but generally he felt Youghal was on a par with the national average.
Cllr Michael Beecher warned of the danger to senior citizens that may emanate from the changeover to digital television signals. It was stressed that Saorview does not send representatives or engineers to houses and to be wary of hoax callers. The superintendent said the same caution should apply to water meter installations.
Cllr Revins asked if there were any moves afoot to upgrade garda cars. He was told that the issue is “fiscal” and is under consideration at a national level, with application having been made for upgraded vehicles.
Cllr Linehan-Foley wondered if the level of hard drug abuse was on the decrease in the area. Superintendent Quilter said it was, with only one heroin detection in the area over the past six months. He noted also that cocaine usage appeared to have dropped considerably since the Celtic Tiger had expired. “That said,” he cautioned, “it could return at any time.” He meant cocaine, not the tiger, unfortunately. The next JPC meeting is scheduled for October.