Joint Policing Committee discusses teething problems and relevance

At least two politicians questioned the value of a policing committee they sit on at its quarterly meeting in Athlone this week.

Councillors Paul Hogan and Jim Henson questioned the effectiveness of the newly-formed joint policing committee (JPC ) for the Athlone/Kilbeggan area after a national review of the policy was presented to the south Westmeath branch.

Cllr Hogan questioned the representativeness of the committee, believing: “This room is top heavy with politicians now we’re part of Kilbeggan/Athlone”.

The committee comprised two gardaí, two community representatives, two council officials, and eight politicians (three FG, two FF, one each from Labour, and Sinn Fein, and an Independent ).

However, membership to the JPC is open to all elected representatives from the two areas, the town council, and local Oireachteas members.

Cllr Mark Cooney disagreed with Cllr Hogan’s viewpoint, saying: “It would be difficult to have fewer politicians unless we had a delegate system. I don’t know who’d want to give it up.”

“A big concern out there is that the JPCs are not working. How do we get over this?” asked Cllr Hogan, before suggesting their meetings be held in areas most affected by crime.

“They may then be seen as a more active committee,” he said.

Cllr Cooney suggested “a degree of flexibility” in its workings, and as an example for Athlone suggested inviting a HSE expert on heroin to address a future meeting.

“I wouldn’t be holding my breath with the HSE. We’ve been waiting eight months to get something out of the HSE,” noted Cllr Jim Henson.

Cllr Sheila Buckley Byrne wondered if the Athlone/Kilbeggan JPC could invite someone involved in the setting up of the rural alert system for the elderly to address the committee.

Town clerk Hugh O’Reilly pointed out the rules of the JPC allow for the formation of a sub-committee on issues like this, but even Cllr Cooney believed this to be “another layer” too far.

All of this came to light after the discussion document into the workings of these committees was made public last week.

Though 71 per cent of respondents to a survey on the effectiveness of these committees believed they added “significant value to the actions of local authorities”, the fact that just 18 per cent of JPC members nationwide bothered to respond to this survey “may prompt concerns as to why”, according to the report.


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