A BRAWL that took place in broad daylight on the streets of Ennis was widely condemned at a meeting, this week, of Clare’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC). Several members voiced fears over activities in the centre of the county town since the onset of the pandemic, which has seen the introduction of pedestrianisation on O’Connell Street and reduced footfall as people work from home.
Clare’s Garda chief also conceded that the pressure to staff roadside checkpoints had reduced the presence of the force in the town.
However, he pledged to boost the visibility of gardaí on the streets as restrictions ease.
Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Mary Howard referred to footage circulating on social media that appears to show two young men brawling on Darcy’s Corner, a busy junction in the heart of the town.
Despite the presence of onlookers, the men can be seen to leave the footpath and exchange blows in the middle of the road, before leaving the area.
“They didn’t have local accents,” Councillor Howard said. “Without a doubt, they were from Limerick City. This is a busy junction, the optics are terrible.”
The Ennis representative added that town centre traders were increasingly alarmed over a rise in anti-social behaviour.
“People need to know that when they get back to their shops to offer Click and Collect that they and their customers will be safe,” she said.
“A sole trader might be inside their door alone, and may not have a second pair of hands to dial 999.”
In relation to begging, Councillor Howard urged people to give people food, rather than money.
“If you give money, they’ll drink it,” she said. “We need a zero tolerance approach, because some people are very aggressive.”
Councillor Ann Norton agreed that a lack of foot patrols is causing concern.
“We are being told that drugs are being sold quite blatantly,” she said.
“People are begging, and I don’t think they’re local. Others are drinking and harassing people.”
Pedestrianisation has made this worse. People are in fear and we can’t allow this to happen on the main street of our county town. We don’t want a bad reputation and want to welcome people back when the restrictions lift.”
Councillor Pat Daly said “beats on the street” are the only answer. “30 to 40 years ago, if there was a row in a laneway, the Gardaí would know in minutes.”
Chief Superintendent Colleran acknowledged members’ concerns, but said there was no evidence of “professional begging”.
“There are a number of people who congregate in Ennis regardless of pedestrianisation,” he said.
“They have committed several offences and have harassed people. Almost all of them have been before the courts, some multiple times.
“As gardaí, we have no control over what the court decides, other than to articulate the evidence.
“Everyone would like to increase [Garda] visibility, but we have been stretched over the last 12 months to enforce travel restrictions. It is one our key aims to increase visibility.
“I would hope that once there’s a reduction in pressure to have checkpoints in place, that will allow more Gardaí to patrol.”