Why LIFE-IN-THE-RAW is unacceptable in Ballymun

Coultry Forum Office

On Monday night 22nd February, 2010, a meeting in Ballymun of the Coultry and Shangan Forums was called. Councillors, TDs, officials and Gardai were invited. No city council officials were present – maybe union instructions!! The stories told by local residents were stark.

A very well preserved lady from Coultry Drive who reared her family in Ballymun and took part in Community Development in Ballymun from the origins in the early 1980s was attacked by a 15 year old and mugged walking to the Axis theatre at 2.15 in the afternoon just before Christmas. This has had a wrecking effect on her life as, having lived in Ballymun for 40 years, she always told everyone that walking around the estate was safe.  She encouraged her family in community activities and now feels so unsafe that she drives her car across to the Axis, a trip of about 400 metres. At 65 years old, she is shattered. No one has been arrested but the Gardai have two suspects for this crime against the community.

Another man got 30 stitches in his face from a bottle recently. A foreign man was attacked and beaten in Coultry.

A 35 year woman (approximately) told us that balconies were set alight in Country and Shangan Road blocks of flats. Petrol was poured at a flat front door and set alight. She is kept awake by constant noisy action outside her flat and she is frightened. Two hostels were burnt on the weekend in Santry. Two young girls’ handbags were robbed at knife point on Coultry Avenue. Street and public lights are routinely broken, replaced and broken again. Thugs threw bottles at pedestrians on Coultry Road. As flats are de-tenanted prior to demolition, these flats are broken into and used as drug dealing and drinking dens. When a block is then demolished, the gang move to the next one and the cycle repeats. There is widespread abuse of female pedestrians and a climate of fear and intimidation is apparent.

The problem crawls around the estate as blocks are demolished in sequence with the massive regeneration project. Drug trading is difficult to police because the financial transaction is often carried out by one group or individual often kids and the drug delivery made at a different place by others. While raiding suspected drug traders’ flats, Gardai often find piles of money only. The drugs are kept in another flat often in empty blocks.

The age group of those involved is from about 11 to 21 years. There are obvious ringleaders who will be targeted by the Gardai. The community Garda for Shangan told how he had taken some of these youths to court only to see them straight back out on the street. Many are breaking the curfews imposed by the courts and monitored by the Gardai. Gardai cannot arrest them for breaking the curfew. But because of the increase in cell numbers at the new Garda Station in Ballymun, most arrested are kept overnight and not let out due to lack of space as was the case in the old station.

The close liaison between the Gardai and the City Council officials was underlined. The antisocial behaviour official Donal Barron was commended for his vigorous activities of warning and evicting those in breech of tenancy agreements through antisocial activities. There were two evictions in Silloge and three evictions in Finglas over the past two months. Barron succeeded Anthony Brennan who did a good job for a considerable time on this issue. Bill Tormey spoke on the issue of truancy and the figure of about 400 youths in Ballymun not attending school on a daily basis – information from Sgt Seamus Treacy who runs the Juvenile Liaison Service.

The gardai have been moving the gangs on only for them to reappear when the foot patrol leaves simply because some of the youths live locally and are using their own homes as hiding places for the gang. The main charges recently have been public order offences, burglary, criminal damage, motor bike offences and the culprits are usually released from court to continue on their way.

What is the PLAN

The Gardai Superintendent Majella Ryan, Inspector Andy Watters, and Sgt Bernard Young are leading their teams to focus a special operation in the next six weeks targeting thuggery in East Ballymun.

The effects will be audited and community reaction gauged at a reconvened meeting in six weeks.

All councillors have agreed to place the issue at the top of the agenda for the Area Committee in April. Councillor Lyons will chair that meeting.

BRYR and the Youth Services will be asked to focus on disaffected youths in this area and the managements will be approached by the Forum. Mr Donnacha Hurley of BRYR in particular will be asked to help out. Geraldstown House for youth referral will be contacted also. Councillor Dessie Ellis warned of the effects of cuts in the funding for the Drugs Task Force and to outreach workers. Bill Tormey said that such cuts are likely to prove counterproductive by merely moving the cost centre from Youth Services to the prison and probation services.

The Gardai have organised midnight soccer leagues with about 8 teams playing from 9 pm to midnight at weekends.

Bill’s Plan

Indentify the gang members and leaders. Use CCTV to gather evidence.

Get the youth services to concentrate on these individuals.

Call parents into the Council to enforce the City Council Tenancy Agreements and initiate eviction procedures against those who fail to comply.

Use sniffer dogs to find drug stashes in Ballymun flats and housing units

Announce a special Garda operation to target antisocial behaviour by certain groups,

Ask the School Attendance officers to systematically apply their work to rule.

Use the ASBO legislation to show seriousness of intent.

Seek advice from the staffs of Local Schools, Drug Task Forces, Gardai, probation services, voluntary agencies and BRYR to co-ordinate a comprehensive action plan to try to tackle the problem.

Bill Tormey wants to see the use of weekend residential curfews to boot-camp the persistent offenders without necessarily criminalising them.

The government must tackle social exclusion even in this recession. That means that Community Employment Schemes and Youth Services must be exempt from service cuts.

These are certainly more worthy of funding the Anglo Irish Bank.

More residents should be encouraged to attend the Ballymun Safety Forum to let the authorities know what are their experiences of anti-social and similar behaviours.