Prostitution, drinking, and drug dealing in the open; bullying and intimidation on Main Street; a town terrorised by gangs on a rampage of robbery and violence.
That was the bleak picture painted of the county town by last week’s meeting of the Portlaoise Municipal District. Teenagers are running amok, said Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald, and old people are afraid to open their bags outside the post office for fear of being robbed. She proposed a motion requested a meeting with the gardaí to discuss the increasing anti-social behaviour in the town.
“One business owner saw prostitution, alcohol consumed, and drug dealing outside his shop. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she lamented.
Cllr Fitzgerald said there aren’t enough gardai in the county, and suggested that parents of teenagers convicted of criminal offences should be responsible for paying court fines.
“I’ve got so many calls about anti-social behaviour. We can’t bury our heads in the sand,” she said.
Former prison officer, Cllr Noel Tuohy said that he always felt that he could walk home safely at night, but he did not feel that way anymore.
“It’s a confined problem, there are small groups,” he said. “There’s bullying and intimidation on Main Street, and it has to stop.”
Remarking that “I occasionally like a flutter,” Cllr Tuohy said he had been surprised to see bouncers hired at one of the local bookmakers to deal with trouble.
“Portlaoise is not the worst town in Ireland. It grew and not enough resources were put into it,” he said.
Cllr Mary Sweeney said Portlaoise was a good town, but there were “elements” living here that offered a poor reflection.
“There was a time if a child did something the parents took responsibilty, now there’s a whole different type of people,” she said.
“It’s every single piece of the town,” said Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley. “There are a couple of gangs terrorising the town... young groups robbing people, assaulting them, intimidating them.”
She recounted an experience she’d had in her business where two Limerick men came in for a haircut, and an hour later she saw the two men standing outside the post office collecting with false permits. She also said that people were afraid to go to a bank machine in Lyster Square for fear of being harassed.
“It’s a very sad day we have to put a motion down like this,” said Cllr Willie Aird. “There are families in Harpurs Lane who are absolutely terrified the same thing will happen there as in Hepburn Court.”
He said he had been in Harpurs Lane recently and saw a person urinating in the middle of the park. He also raised the issue of drug dealing in the town and said that even with the amount of money spent on CCTV cameras there was still a huge problem.