by Martin Warde
A UNIQUE event is being planned to challenge the negative perceptions of a County Limerick town and provide a night of entertainment and fun for the entire local community.
Rathkeale, which is widely known for its sizeable Traveller population, will be the setting for a social gathering spearheaded by community worker Denis Robinson and Garda Superintendent Aileen Magner who believe it’s time to tackle some of the false commentary about the town, particularly over the Christmas period.
Superintendent Magner said that for most of the year locals of Rathkeale live in harmony, something that is not usually reflected in the depictions of the town in the media.
“Rathkeale, the town and its community, is lively, vibrant and full of good people. These good people come from all aspects of its diverse community; the settled community, the Travelling community, the business community, and the various stakeholders invested in the town.
“It is however, also a town that attracts a lot of negative commentary, particularly around the Christmas period, some of it based in fact, much of it not”, she added.
“The Garda Youth Diversion Project in Newcastle West and Rathkeale have been invaluable in facilitating communication between young members of the community and the local gardaí, particularly those young people from a Traveller background. This has led to very frank and open discussions on perception; the perception young Traveller people have of the gardaí and vice versa and also a frank discussion in respect of how the behaviour of young people can cause concerns in a community”.
Regarding the proposed social event, she added: “I am in the process of organising a community event that will be of interest to all members of the community in Rathkeale; an event that combines all members of the varied communities’ mutual worries and interests. We are all human, we all bleed. We need to, in our communities, find things that will unite rather than divide us.”
Denis Robinson, Community Development Officer for Rathkeale, manages the Pre-Social Cohesion Project which is a faith-based project run by the Church of Ireland, Catholic Church and the Methodist Church. He mentioned the importance of such an event for the community, and how faith plays a large part in the participation of Travellers in Rathkeale.
“Faith sometimes has a way of bringing people together. My job is to build on those beliefs and develop programmes that enhance people’s quality of life. Collaborating with the gardaí for this event is momentous and a first. The gardaí get to hear the people and the people get to know that they are being heard. When the community sees that agencies like the gardaí are willing to collaborate and engage at a human and respectful level people respond in kind.”
Superintendent Magner also had a message for journalists ahead of the Christmas period: “Be measured and balanced; feeding what can sometimes be classified as hysteria is not helpful and it only lends to deepen divisions in the community. It is amazing how often people with no connection or true understanding of the community row in in a negative manner. Look for a response to alleged incidents before going to press.
“It is impossible to retract false statements from the psyche of the public; this only serves to have gardaí and the community swimming against a tide of negative opinion. It’s amazing how often incidents are attributed to Rathkeale when the reality is the incidents would have occurred elsewhere in the country or even, continent.
“Gardaí will go on a walkabout with a journalist no problem and show the reality of policing in the town. We did this last year. The use of pictures from the archives of armed police and vehicles is not helpful and is not a true reflection of policing over the period.
“Policing over Christmas and the New Year is very much about community engagement,” she explained.
The social event is set to take place in January with dates to yet be confirmed.