Cullbenbeg community centre after Halloween
Plans to 'pile more houses' in an area of Mountmellick which was the scene of anti-social havoc on Halloween will give 'no break whatsoever' to the decent people who live there and feel they have taken enough buildings, a county councillor has warned.
Cllr Paddy Bracken spoke passionately about the challenges and possible solutions facing the Kirwan Park, and adjoining estates area of the town when the Laois Joint Policing Committee convened this week in Portlaoise.
“What happened over the Halloween period wouldn’t be representative of the people of Mountmellick or that area. It is a decent community with the finest of people,” he said.
Cllr Bracken said he was present and aware of the risk posed by the bonfire.
“There were piles of rubbish built up. Two lorry loads were taken away. It contained bridges, gas cylinders. Had that exploded it would have caused untold damage,” he said.
He said a small group was involved who did not represent the town.
However, the Fianna Fáil councillor who has represented the town for more than three decades, said there are problems and most can be traced back to building too many houses already. He fumed at the green light that was given to build more houses. He said councillors here who supported more houses against the wishes of the people.
“We are forgetting the quality of life the people need. We are piling in houses on top of one of other...The problem here is that there are 350 houses and 74 more granted permission. There is one road in. There is no social infrastructure. The community centre is too small,” he said.
Cllr Bracken said he was not going to blame people for the issues but there must be a collective response.
“We are all in this together. We have to do something to address the issues. There are 350 households with no break whatsoever. We continue to support more houses against local people and representatives,” he said.
The councillor also raised the issue of the juvenile diversion programme.
“Mountmellick has the highest number of referrals in Laois outside of Portlaoise. It is higher than the Portarlington. We have no premises for that. They have to go to Portarlington but some are not going at all. There are 10 in the programme but seven more are waiting,” he said.
He said the council, Laois TDs and councillors have to take responsibility to provide services.
“It is up to us to address these issues,” he said.
He said he is involved with a process to take address the fallout from the Halloween incidents.
“I have sat down with the (Laois) Director of Housing, Chúid housing agency, the Laois Housing Officer since the event. We have started a process to address these issues.
“It is easy to blame youngsters but if they have nothing to do and nowhere to do that is the problem,” he said.
The Halloween incidents were raised by Laois Offaly Sinn Féin TD with Garda Chief Superintendent John Scanlan at the meeting in Portlaoise.
He asked if extra Gardaí were being deployed to Mountmellick and have extra patrols being stepped up in that area.
“The majority of residents are concerned about what is happening. Sometimes when there is disorder like that it may reflect badly on the whole area,” he said.
He added that the majority of people in Kirwan Park, Silverwood, Cullenwood, Cullenbeg estates are law-abiding citizens. He said it is not a reflection of the town
“A lot of them were very upset by what happened,” he said.
He said some of those involved were juveniles who could be placed on juvenile liaison programs.
In reply, Chief Supt Scanlan said the number of gardaí in Mountmellick has been almost trebled since he was appointed nine years ago. He said there is now a sergeant and between seven and 10 gardaí at any given time.
He said he could not guarantee that this would be a permanent number and he he added that gardaí rosters have allowed 12-hour working shifts.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic was partly responsible for a garda policing in the town around Halloween.
“We had an outbreak at Mountmellick Station which caused significant difficulties going into Halloween,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said that when the incidents did begin there was a forceful garda response.
“We saturated the place with whatever resources we had to make sure it did not last. It was precipitated by the removal of a bonfire...there was some reaction from a very, very small minority of youth who have been dealt with,” he said.
However, he said it could not be seen as part of a trend in a good town.
“I am very confident that Mountmellick is a very decent place and this was an isolated incident that says we must all step up to the plate to acknowledge some disaffection of a small cohort of youth,” he said.
He said ‘every effort’ would be made to engage with young people to prevent a repeat.
He also praised Sgt Michael Connell who was isolating during Halloween.
“He lives there, he works out of hours and does a lot of work,” he said.
Chief Supt Scanlon insisted that there is no policing issue in the town.
“There is no serious outbreak of criminality in Mountmellick. A few things got out of hand on the night. We need to keep that perspective,” he said.
He added that the new community CCTV would assist.
The Chief Supt thanked Cllr Bracken for supporting and working with the gardai and but also 'agitating' for better services for the town. He said he would investigate the request to enhance the town's juvenile justice programme.