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Crime in Meath

Posted 10 Jun. 2017

"In light of an alarming increase in both burglary and theft in Meath compared to 2016, we call on this Council to write to the Minister for Justice asking to immediately increase Garda numbers and resources in all 3 divisions in the County (Ashbourne, Navan and Kells) and that if these resources are not forthcoming or available that the Defence Forces Army Rangers wing is brought in as an additional resource for night time patrol and check point duty."

For those that do not know, at the last JPC meeting here in this chamber on May 22nd, we learned that various crime statistics for the first quarter of 2017 had increased exponentially when compared to the 2016 figures. Two figures jumped out at the group when the Gardai gave their report. Burglary went up by 42% and theft is up 48%. As a representative of the people of Meath, and in my role as Chairperson of the Joint Policing Committee, I feel it is our duty to highlight these figures and bring them and the reasons for the increases to the immediate attention of the Minister for Justice.

I do not want to create some sort of political football here: I want this chamber to unite on such a serious issue and send a clear, strong message that enough is enough. I neither want nor intend to further reduce morale in the Gardai and it sickens me the way that the force is often negatively portrayed in the media. Gardai need more resources as well as extra personnel to help fight more sophisticated criminals. I also don't want Meath to be portrayed as a hot spot for crime, but today people see it as an inevitability that one day they will be burgled. Now what does that say about how safe people feel in their own homes, own vehicles, own businesses..?

We all know the reasons for the cuts to the security services of the state. We are recruiting 800 trainee Gardai per year now. However, these recruits in no way hit the ground running when they leave Templemore. It takes many years to gain the experience needed to become an effective guardian of the state. Early retirement has decimated the force and I would like to see the minister incentivise those that decide not to retire, or to try to entice those that have left, back into senior positions because the wealth of experience retired members have is priceless. Increased numbers in the ERU and other sub units have also effectively reduced numbers in Meath with no replacements coming in when Gardai move.

Meath, along with our neighbours Kildare, still rank as the counties with the lowest number of Gardai per head of population. As of September 30th 2016, Meath with a population of 190,000 citizens had just 289 Gardai. That is just one Garda member to every 657 people. We are seen as easy targets. Operation Thor is currently being operated from Ashbourne Garda Station but a more permanent solution must be found now.

We are fortunate to have four motorways traversing this county of ours, however with that, we have the scourge of traveling gangs creating fear; in particular amongst elderly and isolated citizens. We also know they travel at night with no lights on using night vision goggles. These people in most cases are armed, on drugs, are extremely aggressive and ruthless; their actions can only be met with extreme force being provided by the state itself. We see friends and neighbours adding extra security features to their homes and businesses. The norm now consists of fortifying homes with big gates, installing elaborate modern security systems and photographing and storing pictures of people's most sentimental possessions should the get burgled. South and East Meath bear the brunt of the burglaries and theft in the latest stats.

I recently downloaded an application form for funding from the Dept. of Justice for CCTV. It is wrong to expect local voluntary groups like Chambers, neighbourhood watch and text alert groups to co-fund town or village-wide CCTV to protect themselves, but the reality is that people feel that this is the only way to protect what they have worked hard all of their lives for. CCTV should be rolled out nationwide and should be done by the state through county councils and the Gardai. The grant is up to 60%, meaning that somewhere like Ashbourne must raise €20,000 for system worth €50,000.

What is the cost of these crimes to this county?

Households see insurance costs rising; Meath has a specific risk loading applied by insurance companies, while the people we represent spend their hard earned money - not in the local economy on ordinary goods and services - but on extra locks, alarms, phone watch, letter box locking devices, gates and barriers, CCTV, guard dogs, legally held fire arms and safes. In business - and I have my own business - you do what you can to prevent being robbed. We need to only look at the Meath Crime Prevention page ran by Sergeant Dean Kerins: it has 23,500 people following it. Their latest post recommends people do "defensive planting" in the garden, even recommending shrubs and trees, that can act as a deterrent to potential intruders due to them having large, sharp thorns! Indeed, a look at the page's activity in the last 30 days is startling: 5 new trainees - great, 6 bikes stolen, 1 cash in transit raid, 2 car jackings in Julianstown and Dunboyne (one involving a serious assault), 3 burglaries, 2 reports of suspicious activity, a drugs bust and recovered stolen property.

In business, extra strength doors, CCTV, security bollards and pull-down shutters are still penetrable and I often think when, rather than if, I will ever be burgled. My partner worries about me when I'm on my own working late, and she worries about me carrying cash. One of my best friends was a victim of a Dublin based gang that held him on several occasions at gun point extorting thousands of euro from him at his business located in a rural area near the M2. I'm happy to say that the Gardai dealt with that situation and must be commended. How many businesses forgo advertising on their vans and commercial vehicles so as not to attract attention from criminals that, due to the type of business advertised, assume that valuable goods or tools are in that person's vehicle, that person's work place in most cases?

So I'm calling for more resources, more Gardai, more high powered cars and driver training, more check points, more night patrolling, more sophisticated modern equipment better training for our force. There is no dedicated training unit for the Gardai to do specialist training and the HQ in the Phoenix park and Templemore are not capable of facilitating this training. With the renewed threat level from terrorist extremists, I also call on the Minister for Justice to engage with the Minister for Defence to come to an arrangement that will allow Gormanston camp to become the official specialist training area for joint policing and defence forces training.

In the mean time, if resources are not forthcoming, I call on the Minister to call on the Defence Forces Army Ranger Wing to assist with Garda operations, in particular at night time, and in and around the motorway network. This will assist Garda in areas where Garda divisions cross paths. Most importantly, they are an elite and highly trained force that will provide safety and security for the people of Meath and will allow our people sleep in peace and safety in their homes.