AFTER 35 years in the gardaí and more than a decade in Shannon, Noel McMahon retired last week. Speaking to The Clare Champion, a few days after finishing, he said he had enjoyed his career and was looking forward to relaxing over the next few months. “I’m going to enjoy the summer, play golf and I’m going on a holiday in July, then come back and think about September and where I go from there,” he said.
Noel’s son, Keith, died two years ago but he says he is now looking forward to spending time with his wife, Anne, their two daughters and three grandchildren.
Originally from Doonbeg, he went into Templemore in November of 1977 and was sent to Tipperary Town the following May, where he would spend the next 21 years.
He was only starting out when he had to deal with the fall-out from a fatal road crash. “My first fatal accident I was only six months in the job and I had to do it myself. Now you have your forensic collision investigators, the road is closed, it’s so easy now but then you had to do your business on the side of the road where the accident happened.”
Tipperary had its share of difficulties but he says he enjoyed his time there. “It was an old garrison town but it was a farmers’ town as well and there were the finest of people there. It suffered from recession as well, there were never that many jobs there, apart from the creamery, there was very little, factories came and went. But I had good years down there.”
In 1999, he went to Sixmilebridge but was promoted in 2001 and was sent to Scariff before coming to Shannon in October of the same year.
For the last six years, he was sergeant in charge in Shannon, which involved a lot of administrative work, running the station and sub district. “You’re responsible for the station and you have to account for everything. Everything that went through the station had to go through me.”
In his view, developing a good relationship with the community is crucial to proper policing and efforts were made to increase the level of interaction in Shannon. “I liked dealing with the public, which is very important. You need to know the people in the area you’re serving, which is very important and you build up a good relationship and know who’s who. A good relationship with the public is vital to the guards from the point of view of solving crime, without their help we can’t solve crime.
“We set up community policing with two guards and that has been a major contribution to the policing of the town. They’ve set up community watch and business watch as well and that has been very successful.”
While working in Tipperary, he was involved in responding to a bank robbery in which the raiders fired shots.
However, he is very much of the view that the police in this country should be unarmed, as far as is possible.
“We’re dealing with ordinary decent country people and the last thing they want to see is some Guard calling to the door with a gun on him. You will need your response units and they are there but I think the guards should always be unarmed. Ok, we have lost members in uniform in situations where shots were fired but I still maintain guards should be unarmed. We’re dealing with very decent people out there and I don’t think our country is like others, it’s still a very peaceful and law abiding country.”
While there is some more violence then when he joined, he says most of the issues facing the police are the same. “Maybe it wasn’t as dangerous in that there weren’t guns around apart from the bank raids, there is more of a threat to life there now. But for the most part, you have the same type of crime now, burglaries, thefts, assaults but assaults weren’t as bad then, they weren’t using knifes, it was mostly fisticuffs. Now anything can be used.”
No gardaí have been trained for the last few years due to cost-cutting and he feels there is a need for ongoing recruitment. “The numbers increased in the boom and now they’re decreasing because there is no recruitment and it’ll be needed soon because there is a possibility that a lot more will go next year. Too many were recruited too fast and if it had been done in stages, you’d have an easier turnover and a gradual replacement of members.”
He feels the gardaí are well supported by the public and he took pride in what he did. “I loved my work, I always went to work on time, I believed in being on time and being dressed properly for work. I believe it’s important to portray that image and that our cars and equipment look right. They are public equipment and they should be kept right and they are kept right by and large.”