Pictured at the Public meeting of the Joint Policing Committee were (from left): Cllr. Pio Smith, Chief Superintendent Alan McGovern, Joe McGuinness Director of Services and Organisational Development of Louth County Council, Superintendent Andrew Watters, Committee Chair Cllr. James Byrne, and Cllr. Joanna Byrne.
Despite a shortage of manpower and other resources, senior Gardaí in Drogheda have agreed to find a way to have more Garda “on the beat” on West Street and elsewhere in Drogheda in the coming weeks to counteract a rise in anti-social behaviour.
West Street is the face of Drogheda but sadly what we, our customers and visitors to the town see is beggars, drunks and junkies engaging in threatening and anti-social behaviour as we go try to go about our lawful business.
That was the message from traders in West Street at a recent public meeting of the Joint Policing Committee of the Council and Gardaí which was by times animated and the language robust.
One shopkeeper said that it is a daily occurrence to see men, out of their heads on alcohol or drugs, arguing and harrassing passers-by in the street and not a Garda in sight.
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He recalled a recent episode when four very drunk men were falling about the place and fighting over a naggin of whisky. “It was only two in the afternoon and, whilst I felt sorry for them, it is simply not good enough” he said.
One woman spoke of being harassed and followed down the street by two men when she was out doing her shopping. She ducked into a shop to evade them but they were still there and started hassling her again when she came out.
“There is no way that I’m going down West Street again unless I really have to” she said.
“Whenever there is a Garda presence on the street, the situation improves straight away” said another trader but added that he had practically given up calling the Gardaí about incidents of anti-social behaviour because, as often as not, nothing happens.
“The situation is getting very difficult for all of us working on the street” he said. “I’ve been hit a number of times, something has to be done to change the situation.”
Listening to these and other similar comments from traders and members of the public were Drogheda’s top Gardaí, Superintendent Andrew Watters and Chief Superintendent Alan McGovern, both of whom gave reassurances that, despite a national shortage of manpower and resources, they would do what they could to alleviate the situation.
Superintendent Watters told the meeting that he was very aware of the situation on West Street because he had a screen on his desk showing him what is happening but the problem is one of resources.
“I give West Street a lot of attention every day, this year alone there have been several arrests for public order offences but often I have to prioritise resources to other develop[ping situations. Typically there are only two squad cars available to me in Drogheda every day.”
Councillor Pio Smith said he had witnessed two fist fights in West Street recently, both of them in the middle of the day.
“A lot of people are not going into town as a result of this type of behaviour” he said, adding that “we need to address the situation of Garda resources before we drift back into the situation we were in three or four years ago.”
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd said that one of the problems is that homeless people living in hostels have nowhere to go during the day and that perhaps the possibility of providing a centre where they could spend the day could be investigated. He also said that having Garda foot patrols walking along West Street would be very welcome.
Addressing the problem of homelessness, Superintendent Andrew Watters said that a “wet house” is something he would dearly love to see to provide these men with somewhere they go in safety and comfort.
Responding to complaints from shop keepers about homeless people drinking in public and begging the Superintendent said: “begging is my pet hate. As for the drinking, who is selling them the drink?”
“I hear your point” said the manager of one of the West Street supermarkets, “but they have as much right as anyone else to buy alcohol. My staff are regularly threatened and that is intolerable. You say you are under resourced but need Gardaí on the street as quickly as possible.”
Trevor Connolly of the Love Drogheda Business Improvement District organisation agreed that whenever there were Gardaí on the beat there as a marked improvement. He said that there are 50 or 60 traders on West Street and they could be the eyes and ears for the Gardaí.
“We are listening” said Chief Superintendent McGovern. “If it needs more Garda overtime it will be done. What we are taking from this meeting is that we need more feet on the street and I give you my word that will be implemented before Christmas.