Youngsters who have destroyed lifebuoys along the Owenass river walk in Mountmellick were strongly condemned at the town council meeting last Thursday, June 13.
Cllr Bobby Delaney held up a clipping of the Leinster Express article that recently exposed the problem.
An Irishtown resident reported seeing lifebuoys being thrown into the river and onto the road and most recently, set on fire.
“Three Gardaí came from Portlaoise and said ‘by the time we go around to the playground side they will have run away’, It is driving me crazy,” the resident reported.
“I was shocked when I read it, that residents were being harrassed by youths. I wondered was there trouble starting in the amenity park, as in the other (Smiths Field) but the problem is alongside the river,” said Cllr Delaney.
“They are going down on drinking sessions to the old swimming area, and on the way home taking a shortcut to convent bridge, giving people a lot of hassle,” he said, adding that he has requested a CCTV camera for the riverwalk.
Newly elected Cathaoirleach Cllr Paddy Bracken claimed drink was being “dropped off” to the youths.
“They are intimidating people in the neighbourhood. It is scandalous to think those lifebuoys are there for a very important purpose. People genuinely fall in and will need that lifebuoy,” he said.
The councillors plan to raise the issue with the Gardaí at the next Joint Policing Committee meeting, due to be held last Thursday but postponed.
Cllr Marc Connolly said parents were ultimately responsible.
“If any of these kids get in trouble, what’s going to save them? A life could be lost because of their stupidity,” he said.
Cllr Rosemary Whelan had previously raised the problem of missing lifebuoys.
“I was horrified when I read about this. That part of the walk is the most unspoilt, oldest part of the town. We need to clean up the area and cut back overgrowth,” she said.
The penalty for damaging a lifebuoy is an €1800 fine.
“We would have to catch them first to fine them,” noted Cllr Whelan.
Cllr Bobby Delaney recalled that many people had drowned in the river.
“We do remember people losing their lives. When there is a flash flood that is the fastest water in Laois,” he said.
“There should be a jail sentance, not a fine,” said Cllr Stephen Lynch.