Gardaí in Shannon say it is unacceptable to demonise local teens. At the recent meeting of Shannon Municipal District, Sgt Seamus Mulligan and Det. Sgt Kevin O’Hagan rejected claims by a local councillor that violent assaults by teenagers and illegal drugs are “rampant” in the town. The two senior Gardaí sought to assure local people that Shannon remains one of the safest places to live in Ireland.
Sinn Fein councillor Mike McKee had claimed to receive a “tremendous response on social media in relation to these assaults”. Facebook comments by the councillor featured in a Sunday Business Post article where he was quoted saying, “no young thugs will control our town. Decisions will have to be taken.” This was followed by the comment, “the sooner they get a good hiding the better.”
At the January meeting of Shannon MD, McKee began his contribution by bemoaning the fact that the discussion would be held in public with the media present. As chairman, he could have called for a vote to hold the proceedings in camera with the media excluded, but failed to do so.
Most councillors are reluctant to hold meetings in camera, preferring to abide by principles of public accountability, openness and transparency.
While the Gardaí had been pre-invited on foot of a motion at the November meeting, McKee claimed that their presence was “in relation to the recent outcry from residents in Shannon over certain assaults that have been happening.”
He added, “That has certainly frightened a lot of residents in Shannon and there was a tremendous response on social media when certain posts went up in relation to these assaults.”
Commenting on illegal drugs in Shannon, McKee said, “I am led to believe it’s rampant, any drug under the sun is as easy to purchase as a bottle of wine.”
He criticised the criminal justice system and claimed young offenders are dealt with too leniently, “It is very frustrating that the judiciary seems to be out of touch with the people of Shannon and are letting people off with too light sentences.”
Both Garda officers were taken aback by the views expressed and proceeded to explain the workings of the Juvenile Diversion Programme.
DS O’Hagan pointed put that many young offenders have experienced serious problems in their lives. He commented, “it’s incumbent on us as a community, the Gardaí as an organisation, and for anyone else to try to change their ways. To say that we should lock them up and throw away the key is wrong,” said DS O’Hagan, he also described the misuse of social media as “an absolute disaster when it comes to things like this”.
“Social media,” he said, “can be very positive but unfortunately when used negatively it causes a lot of pressure.”
DS O’Hagan said, “it is unacceptable to demonise all these juveniles when some of them have had horrendous upbringings and need more assistance than they do need jail time.”
The Detective Sergeant rejected out of hand any suggestion that Gardaí are being frustrated by Child Protection law and the Juvenile Programme.
Sgt Seamus Mulligan emphasised that not a single person in Shannon has complained about being afraid to go to the town centre.
Sgt Mulligan asked people to bear in mind that there a lot of teenagers live in Shannon and while incidents do occur, most teens are not all involved in anti-social behaviour.
“There’s a lot of good lads and good girls around this town,” said Sgt Mulligan emphasising that Gardaí reject the image of marauding youths in place of boisterous teenagers letting off energy.
Sgt Mulligan said the actual number of assaults in Shannon is relatively small compared to similar sized towns. However, he also commented, “there have been a few assaults that have made high profile social media debuts.”
Sgt Mulligan said that in advance of coming to the meeting he had gone looking for the Facebook comments referred to by Mike McKee but could not find them.
“Supposedly,” he said, “there was a stream of comments on a particular post but I went looking for it and couldn’t find it. I have heard mention that some said ‘people were afraid’, ‘the town’s got worse’ and ‘what were the guards doing’.”
Sgt Mulligan clearly stated, “That is certainly not the case.” He spoke of meeting elderly people in the community prior to Christmas and giving an assurance that Shannon is one of the safest places to live in Ireland.
“It has been for years and it still is,” he said emphasising, “there’s certainly no epidemic of violence or assaults here.”
Sgt Mulligan sought to convince Shannon councillors that Facebook is not an appropriate forum for public representatives to discuss things in public as they cannot control any comments people make.
In his contribution, Cllr Gerry Flynn pointed out that he doesn’t use social media. With regard to holding the meeting in camera, he said representatives of the Gardaí were invited to attend at a public forum so that the media would be able to relay the information to the community.
Cllr Flynn said the initial Facebook posting had created “a bit of a frenzy” because people did approach him saying that they wouldn’t go to the shopping centre after such an hour.
Addressing the two sergeants he said, “I’m delighted you came here as the public needed your reassurance. Social media built up a bit of a frenzy and I don’t like that.”
A message that Gardaí do want to get across is that people are welcome to come and talk with them in confidence at any time.