COUNCILLORS this week called for extra Garda patrols in Rathkeale over Christmas with an influx of more than 2,000 Travellers from the UK expected to descend on the West Limerick town.
However, one local representative felt that extra Gardaí on the streets of Rathkeale might not be the best solution to deal with antisocial behaviour during the festive period.
Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin Sheahan suggested that instead, a number of community officers should be out on the streets.
“Maybe in other places visitors are made feel welcome. These are people, human beings with some connection to Rathkeale. Rathkeale is to them what the beach is to English people in the summertime,” Cllr Sheahan told council members at this month’s Adare-Rathkeale area meeting.
The Askeaton man went on to say that many local businesses would not survive without the revenue brought into the town each year by the huge numbers of Travellers from England that visit the town for Christmas.
“I feel there is only one signal that goes up the flagpole before they arrive. People get up in arms against them.
“It is not an invasion and they are not all hostile. Some are more a nuisance than hostile. Two vehicles blocking up the road when they stop to greet one another annoys us all, but that is not a crime, it’s an offence.
“There is a significant economic benefit to the town. This is their Galway Races,” he declared.
“There’s no horses though,” one councillor replied.
Mayor Stephen Keary took issue with Cllr Sheahan’s comments about the revenue brought into the town every year by members of the Traveller Community. He said that one local employer with a staff of 50 people and paying €45,000 a year in commercial rates, had an illegal business set up outside its premises selling furniture last Christmas.
“People from Rathkeale and the hinterland won’t even come into the shops in the town over Christmas and do their shopping elsewhere,” Cllr Keary claimed.
Cllr Sheahan accused the Mayor of “having a bee in his bonnet about the Traveller community”.
“Be very careful,” Cllr Keary warned before insisting Cllr Sheahan withdraw his remark.
“Withdraw your foot,” Cllr Sheahan replied.
The New Superintendent of Newcastle West Garda Division, Eamon O’Neill, told councillors that supplementary resources from the divisional unit would be available in Rathkeale at “critical times” during the Christmas period.
by Alan Jacques