At a community text alert meeting in Dromahair last week Superintendent Kevin English addressed concerns expressed by members of the community and insisted he would welcome the re-opening of Dromahair Garda Station but only if he was provided with additional personnel.
At a meeting attended by approximately 20 people, Supt English said “Dromahair is a quiet place with regards crime,” and he expressed the view that the community alert system needs to be “refined.”
He also told the meeting there has been an increased Garda presence in the area since an attempted burglary at a shop in the village on December 15 last.
The meeting heard that investigations are ongoing in relation to that incident with Supt English revealing, “I know at 4am on that morning the car came into Manorhamilton from Northern Ireland.”
He also stated that work is ongoing with the PSNI and he remains confident arrests will be made in relation to the incident.
Supt English confirmed there has been an increase in Garda visibility in the Dromahair area since that incident on December 15 saying, “I have deployed the Carrick-on-Shannon Road Traffic Unit on a significant number of occasions since that crime.
“I know there are checkpoints being performed and it is one of the most effective measures I have.”
Referring to burglary figures for the Dromahair area Supt English noted there were 16 burglaries in 2014 which he described as a “large spike” following the closure of the Garda Station in 2013. He expressed the belief that, “I don’t think you can accept that as the norm.”
The following year had just nine burglaries, in 2016 there were four reported burglaries and last year there were seven reported burglaries.
Referring to the closure of the Garda Station and any possible reopening, Supt English said, “If the decision was made tomorrow to open Dromahair Garda Station I would welcome it, so long as they give me four Guards and a Sergeant because I can’t afford to take them out of other areas.”
He also referred to other incidents of criminality that had occurred in the area, revealing that incidents of tractor thefts have resulted in a file being forwarded to the DPP and money stolen from the local church led to a successful prosecution.
It was also revealed that Gardai in Manorhamilton helped solve a recent case of hoax bomb calls with Supt English noting, “That was solved in 10 days.”
Concerns were expressed about the lack of text messages sent to members of the text alert group with some at the meeting pointing out they received just two messages in the space of 12 months, although others stated they received in the region of seven messages.
Supt English referred to the recent attempted burglary in Dromahair when he stated, “What is the value in me sending out a text at that time (5am). If that happened at 9am and we received a report of four people carrying a ladder heading towards the shop of course we would send out a text.”
Supt English acknowledged the text alert scheme hasn’t worked as well as he would have been hoped in Dromahair saying, “I understand the system needs to be looked at and it needs to be refined. I believe there is a need to amalgamate.
“There are 17 text alert groups in Leitrim and very few of them are sharing. It is something that has to be looked at on a county basis.
“Carrigallen have set up a Facebook page in conjunction with the text alert and we are assisting,” before asking, “How effective are you as a community?”
One issue which generated a lot of debate was a recent message sent out in relation to road conditions that were described by Sgt Robert Conroy as being “treacherous” on the day in question.
Supt English said messages with weather warnings were sent out in “exceptional circumstances and if it saves one life I won’t regret it.”
He added that if there was a consensus that the community did not wish to receive such messages they will not be sent in future.
Sgt Conroy also commented on that text saying, “I was responsible for sending that message. The road conditions were treacherous.
“You might think it is not very relative, from our point of view it is very relative.”
Margaret Sharkey outlined her concerns when she addressed the meeting saying “We went out when the Garda Station closed in Dromahair and got the text alert going. We asked people to contribute €5 to be notified of suspicious activity.”
In reply Sgt Conroy commented, “Maybe we’ll try to relaunch it with a bit more enthusiasm,” adding, “We are depending on the public to help us with sending information.”
When asked if the sending of text information followed directly from the information relayed to Gardai from the public Sgt Conroy replied, “We have to be very careful with data protection.”
Charlie Sharkey voiced his frustration when he stated, “There are more alerts on Facebook. There seems to be a disconnect between the public and the Gardaí.”
In reply Sgt Conroy commented, “We don’t have access to Facebook. Did any of them ring the station? We can only operate with the tools we have.”
Vanessa Clarke from Muintir na Tíre warned of the dangers of posting alerts on social media when she said, “You could be leaving yourself open to libel putting unauthenticated messages on Facebook. You have an onus to make sure it is verified.”
Cllr Frank Dolan expressed the opinion that steps should be taken to remedy any difficulties with the text alert system.
“The text alert was a good idea.
“It was meant to alert people to suspicious activity. If there is a breakdown in that system it should be rectified.
“The closing of the barracks was bad for the area but those decisions were made high up the line.”
Supt English said a divisional policy is needed but An Garda Siochana are looking to become more active on social media and reiterated his desire to ensure the text alert system proves more successful in the future.
“I am confident you will see a significant increase in your text alerts. As a group try to develop it and I will support it.
“I know there is a lot of trust and satisfaction in us around here from the calls we get and I don’t take that for granted. You have a lovely and peaceful area and you want to preserve it.”
He also reiterated his suggestion that Dromahair Text Alert become active on Facebook similar to what has been done in Carrigallen and he revealed there is a proposal to have Dromahair monitored by a satellite CCTV system that would be linked to the CCTV in Manorhamilton.
Several people at the meeting welcomed the increased Garda presence but pointed out “You can't talk to the tail lights on a patrol car.”
Superintendent English gave his backing to a suggestion that a Garda be deployed in Dromahair once a week for a number of hours saying, “I support that and will resource it with a Garda for 2-3 hours per week.
“If a location is identified I will certainly commit to it for three months.”