Gardaí in Castlebar are going to patrol the streets in plain clothes to try to identify the thugs who are harassing children and teenagers on a daily basis.
Additional patrols are also going to be scheduled for lunchtimes in an effort to deter gangs from intimidating and harassing young people.
These moves have come as a direct result of a public meeting last week which was called to give a voice to concerned parents whose children have been subjected to sustained harassment and bullying by a gang of thugs operating on the streets of Castlebar and in close proximity to the secondary schools.
The meeting heard harrowing stories of persistent intimidation which has stopped teenage boys in particular from coming to town to meet friends and socialise. They are living in constant fear of their attackers and the problem is widespread.
“There has been a vast improvement in the situation since the Mayo Advertiser printed a front page story about this problem,” Castlebar town councillor Ger Deere said this week.
However concrete actions are now needed to identify the culprits and bring them to justice.
The committee of parents and councillors who were elected at last Wednesday night’s meeting in the TF Royal Hotel met with the local superintendent, two garda sergeants, and a senior social worker on Wednesday of this week to outline the concerns raised at the meeting and to decide a plan of action.
The gardaí agreed to look at the possibility of using mobile cameras around the town to gather information. They are also going to spend more time monitoring the existing CCTV and zero in on specific areas were attacks are reported to be happening.
The problem will be monitored over the next 10 days and a report will be made at the next Castlebar Joint Policing Committee meeting. However the parents’ committee will meet again if they feel there has not been a major improvement.
The gardaí are also going to write to every parent of a secondary school student in the town, with the co-operation of the three schools, making them aware of the situation and expressing how important it is for them to report any incidents of harassment to the Garda station either through the 999 emergency number of the local 094 9022222 number.
“The gardaí are taking this very seriously,” local independent Cllr Michael Kilcoyne reported after the meeting. “They are going to deploy manpower at various places where incidents are happening. Many are going to be in plain clothes close to schools and alleyways and if the gardaí need extra resources and manpower they will bring it in,” he added.The gardaí told the meeting they were serious about dealing with the problem and would take whatever action was necessary including the use of the Garda juvenile system and should this fail they will go directly to the courts.
“It’s extremely important that parents report any issues of intimidation. This is the only way the gardaí will be able to measure the scale of the problem and it will help them make a case for additional resources,” explained Cllr Kilcoyne.
Parents who are afraid to give their names to gardaí are asked to make their complaints anonymously with as much information as possible so the authorities can act.
Children and teenagers are also urged to tell their parents if they are being subjected to intimidation or bullying so they can be helped.
Fine Gael councillor Noreen Heston, who attended last week’s public meeting, issued a statement saying: “The time has come for parents of youngsters who are systematically and indiscriminately bullying and intimidating the youth of this town to take responsibility for the actions of their children. It is intolerable that minors are living under the threat of attack and, even worse still, that some of them have been victimised and tormented in their own community. This situation needs to be addressed immediately.”
Following last week’s meeting Cllr Heston received a number of calls from distressed parents highlighting their concerns. They are seeking help and support for their children and, above all, they want the torment to be brought to an end.
“We need to introduce a system whereby sanctions are imposed upon parents who persistently fail or refuse to address the behaviour of their children. Perhaps a system of fines could be introduced or one where parents are asked to appear before a court to account for their failure to act,” added Cllr Heston.
The culprits too need to be brought to task according to Counsellor Heston. “They must be held responsible for their own actions. They are at an age where they know the difference between right and wrong.”