Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Garda Siochana Athy

A few weeks ago the National Press reported a claim that upwards of forty percent of Gardai were engaged ‘on the beat’. I read the report with surprise as at no time within the past thirty years or so have I seen any evidence of Gardai patrolling the streets of Athy. Their absence is a major drawback to crime prevention and one wonders why Gardai management have not taken steps to remedy the situation. When established in 1922 as Guardians of the Peace, the Garda Siochana drew support from Irish society but that support lessened as daily contact between Gardai and the community they serve has disappeared. There has been a multiplicity of reasons offered for the absence of Gardai on the streets, not sufficient Gardai being the main reason. For this successive governments must be held responsible. As against the claim of insufficient Garda numbers there is the questionable deployment of Gardai on traffic management duties. Quite frankly local communities would much prefer to have Gardai visible on our streets than having them manning speed traps and checking on vehicle drivers documentation. That type of work can be left to others such as the providers of the Go Safe speed vans and so allow the Garda members who spend three years in law enforcement and police training to deal with crime prevention and detection. I don’t have exact figures for the number of Gardai stationed in Athy today. I am aware that the Garda Station is severely undermanned, as indeed is the entire Kildare Garda division compared to other Garda divisions. Today’s Garda numbers in Athy far exceed that to which we were accustomed in the 1960s. However, Athy is a much bigger place than it was fifty years ago and today’s Gardai have to deal with a more complex society than did their colleagues of generations ago. The very first complement of Gardai took up duty in Athy on 15th August 1922 and for a time were based in the Town Hall. The Garda Station was later moved to the old R.I.C. Barracks on Barrack Lane which had been built 200 years previously as a cavalry barracks. The first Garda Sergeant, so far as my research indicates, was Sergeant Cornelius Lillis who had a party of fifteen Gardai with him. The Gardai moved to Leinster Street after the Garda Station in Barrack Lane was attacked during the Civil War. There is uncertainty as to whether Athy’s third Garda Station was opened in the Leinster Arms Hotel or in the hotel on the opposite side of the road which is now Bradburys. A former Garda who served in Athy during the 1920s claimed that the town’s first station was opened with one sergeant and four Gardai whom he named as Garda John Hanley, Garda John Kelly, Garda Patrick Fitzgerald and Garda Joseph McNamara. In those early days Athy was the Garda District headquarters before it was changed to Kildare town. Athy later featured again as the District headquarters before it subsequently came under the District Office in Carlow. Within more recent years it has again reverted to the Kildare division, with Kildare town as the District headquarters. During my young days in Athy the local Gardai consisted for the most part of members who had been stationed in the town for decades past. Amongst them was Garda Michael Tuohy, a Clare man who came to Athy in 1933. He lived in Offaly Street. Also in Offaly Street was Garda James Kelly, a Mayo man who arrived in Athy having transferred from County Kerry in the 1920s. Garda Johnny McMahon, another Mayo man who lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue arrived in Athy in the late 1920s. Garda John Connell from Co. Tipperary came to Athy in 1934 and he also lived in St. Patrick’s Avenue. All of those men were former members of the Old I.R.A. and had been actively involved as young men in the Irish War of Independence. As a youngster living in Offaly Street I knew and respected those men who were regularly to be seen patrolling the streets of Athy. It was a different age, a time when the Gardai were as much community workers as policemen. As rural stations closed and the patrol car replaced the bicycle the Garda on the beat became a feature of the past. While it is generally accepted that crime prevention requires members of the Garda Siochana to be visible in public, the present Garda numbers in Athy do not allow for street patrolling. I believe if Garda resources were better deployed, it would permit greater police visibility on our streets. Perhaps a start can be made by abolishing the Traffic Corps and putting the traffic police back on the beat. However, in the long term we can only hope that the newly appointed Garda Commissioner can lever sufficient funding from the Government to increase Garda numbers.

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