24 April 2008 Edition
Dublin 15: Shopping the dealers
Sinn Féin Fingal County Councillor
FOR several years, Blanchardstown was rarely out of the news due to the many gangland killings. The most well-known group who terrorised the community was labelled by the media as ‘The Westies’. Thankfully, recently there seems to be a lull in the bloodletting. Whilst the shootings and murders made national news they only impacted on a small proportion of the Dublin 15 community. The areas affected were not unlike many in Dublin and elsewhere throughout the 32 counties, built by city and county councils who gave no thought nor indeed cared for the people who were to live in those isolated communities. Large housing estates like Corduff and Mulhuddart were built on the outskirts of Dublin at the edge of small villages with few or no social or youth facilities.
This left a legacy that we are still living with today. Facilities have hugely improved. However, we are still only playing catch-up.
Crime and anti-social behaviour is one of the biggest issues we face in certain parts of Blanchardstown but there is hope that the services providers – the Garda, Fingal County Council and others – are becoming more responsive to the needs of the community with the introduction of several initiatives. The Safer Blanchardstown forum is one of these, along with specific targeted Garda actions.
In April 2004, a seminar entitled Developing Integrated Policing was held in Blanchardstown. This seminar was organised by the Blanchardstown Local Drugs Task Force along with other voluntary and community groups. The group was successful in applying for funding for the establishment of a Safer Blanchardstown Project. The project’s core aim was to bring a solution-focused approach to the problems of crime and anti-social behaviour which would include the community, county council, gardaí and other relevant stakeholders.
The Safer Blanchardstown Project has started rolling out in one particular area to date. Several public meetings have been held in the Muhuddart community, which encompasses the older council estates alongside the newer communities that have been part of the population explosion that Dublin 15 has experienced over the past 15 years.
The public meetings are there to provide a medium where local residents can express their concerns and to challenge both the Garda and Fingal County Council. Issues addressed are the type of low-level anti-social behaviour that is causing huge frustration for the community. The response so far has been very positive with a flow of information between the Garda, the council and the community. Although this is not the panacea for anti-social behaviour, it is very positive in that the community can hold the statutory agencies to account.
There has also been a very visible shift in the attitude of the Garda in response to community concerns. At the most recent Safer Blanchardstown public meeting, I asked the local Garda representative if they had in their 2008 Garda plan, any specific mention of establishing a special task force which would target ‘anti-social hot-spots’ which had been identified by the community. There wasn’t a specific team established but he confirmed that, over the coming months, there is a plan in place to target areas where under-age drinking is taking place. This is in direct response to local community concerns. Indeed, I have been informed by young people in the community that areas known for underage drinking have been targeted, resulting in some arrests and referrals to the Garda Juvenile Liaison Scheme for those caught drinking alcohol on two or more occasions.
There have also been several initiatives welcomed by Sinn Féin in the past number of weeks. Recently the Garda held a meeting in a local hotel and invited all community and voluntary groups to attend. The aim of the meeting was to introduce the community policing team and to identify any areas in which the community and the gardaí could work more closely together. There were many positive ideas on developing both policing and communication between the community and the gardaí. The local inspector agreed to come back in six months’ time and he gave a commitment to addressing many of the issues in the weeks and months ahead.
Recently the Garda has launched a series of meetings designed to create awareness of particular types of crimes. A series of display stands in local shopping centres, schools and community centres will complement the community gardaí’s existing advice clinics that operate throughout Dublin 15.
While there are many positives happening in the Dublin 15 area in relation to criminal and anti-social behaviour, there are also some difficulties that may lie ahead. Several years ago, the Blanchardstown Local Drugs Task Force funded an innovative ‘Dial to Stop Drug Dealing’ free phone. Although this initiative was acknowledged by all to have been a huge success and indeed calls were made by many other communities throughout the country to replicate the scheme, funding was not continued after the pilot stage and much of the good work building up community trust in the service has been wasted.
The Safer Blanchardstown Project is also a pilot scheme and it is essential that not only is the work continued but also developed throughout the Dublin 15 area. When the Government talks about ‘tightening our belts’ it’s usually the working class who lose out. We all remember the last time such a call was made by Charles Haughey’s Fianna Fáil-led government while they enriched each other through corruption. The health cuts really do hurt the old, the sick and the poor.
Community projects are usually the first to see their funding cut. We must bed-in the current initiatives and take the lead in developing more services for the community.
A serious issue in Dublin 15 is the political interference by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and led by the Labour Party which saw Sinn Féin former Councillor Felix Gallagher denied a position on the newly-established Joint Policing Committee. As the new Sinn Féin councillor representing Mulhuddart, I shall continue to demand a place on the JPC.
I will continue to campaign for additional gardaí to bring Blanchardstown into line with other areas such as Limerick, which has three times more gardaí despite a smaller population. We need two further Garda stations for the constituency (one in Mulhuddart and one in Ongar), bringing the gardaí closer to the community and thereby increasing public support and confidence.
As Sinn Féin councillor for the Mulhuddart area I will ensure that political pressure is maintained on the decision-makers in Fingal County Council and the Garda to ensure that the needs of the community are fully addressed. It will be an ongoing struggle but much progress has been made to date – and it’s a struggle Sinn Féin won’t give up.